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In override vote, merit raises for some town employees are on the line


Updated June 12, 2020
 

If the proposed $320,000 override fails to win voter approval this month, one of the first casualties is likely to be any merit raises for 40 town workers. Article 6 of the Spring Town Meeting warrant calls for $26,602 to be available for merit raises. But if the override fails, Town Administrator Tim Bragan has identified that sum as one of the cuts to be made to balance the budget.

The employees who would be affected are those without either individual or union contracts. Many are the people residents meet at Town Hall, the library, the Public Safety Building, and the Council on Aging. The Department of Public Works, the Board of Health, the town beach, and HCTV each have one or two employees in this category.

Until two years ago, these town employees were paid according to a “step-and-grade” system, with raises tied to years of service and to additional training and certification. Under a new “merit pay” system established in 2018, their raises were instead linked to yearly performance goals.

Last year, the Personnel Board decided each town department covered by the new system would get a pot of money equal to 1.5% of the salaries for the noncontract workers in that department. The department head could then use that pot to provide merit raises, with the amount of each raise based on the employee’s performance rating. At the time, the town administrator said whether to have merit raises would be determined afresh every year.

That same 1.5% calculation was used this year, leading to the $26,602 pot, which allows for an average raise of about $665 per employee.

In addition to a possible merit raise, town employees usually get a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) each year, based on the Consumer Price Index from the previous year. According to Assistant Town Administrator Marie Sobalvarro, the fiscal 2021 COLA is 1.7%, based on the last October’s Consumer Price Index. 

Given the current recession, Sobalvarro noted in an email that next October’s Consumer Price Index may be negative. The Personnel Committee is expected to discuss how to deal with that unusual issue at its Thursday meeting this week. The Consumer Price Index fell during six years of the Great Depression in the 1930s and twice during recessions in 1949 and 1955. It has not fallen since then except in the Great Recession of 2009.


Editor's note: This article has been updated:

In the last few minutes of a Personnel Board meeting Thursday, June 11, Assistant Town Administrator Marie Sobalvarro informed board members of an intent to withdraw Article 6 on merit pay for town employees on the warrant for Town Meeting. She said, ”The Budget Working Group concurred that the article for merit pay would not be put forward this year." Personnel Board Chair Victor Normand asked her if any action was required of the board, as it had originally put forward the article for the warrant. She said no action was required from the board.

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