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Personnel, salaries are drivers for 2024-25 budget

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KENT—The Board of Selectmen reviewed the Public Works Department and the Town Treasurer’s budget proposals during a special meeting Feb. 16. In both cases, staffing was the sleeping giant under the table.

Public Works Foreman Rick Osborne laid out a budget that showed a modest $22,445 increase over this year’s budget for materials, maintenance and equipment, but which does not yet include salary adjustments. 

Selectman Lynn Mellis Worthington noted that the town is preparing to take over maintenance of six town cemeteries and queried Osborne as to whether an additional seasonal worker is needed for mowing. At present, the town Public Works Department has six persons, five of whom have CDL licenses. The sixth person mows town properties during the summer and does maintenance and sidewalks in the winter.

The town crew has “multiple mowers” going during the summer, Osborne said, caring for the school fields, town parks, around town buildings, the transfer station and like.

Worthington noted that the Kent Cemetery Association, which has overseen the cemeteries for the past century, has been experiencing longer mowing seasons as the climate changes. “They are starting earlier and going later—from April to October,” she said. She suggested the addition of another crew member to take over the cemeteries rather than relying on subcontractors.

Osborne said the cemeteries would need to be maintained two or three times a month, with trimming once a month.

He said a part-time person could only be hired for three to six months without having to join the union and that, with benefits and salary, a full-time position could cost the town $112,000 annually.

First Selectman Marty Lindenmayer said that if another crew member were dedicated to the cemeteries additional equipment would be needed, as well as truck to transport it to the distant sites. “The cost would be significant,” he predicted, but added, “We can see how it goes this year.”

It was noted that Phase II of installing sidewalks will increase the amount of work for snow clearance and Worthington argued that a new employee could also be used in winter for building maintenance. When Lindenmayer said it is hard to find an employee with multiple skill sets, she replied, “when we advertise for a new person, we would have a better chance of making that happen.”

Attention turned to operations at the transfer station and the town’s involvement in a Housatonic Resource Recovery Authority pilot program for separating food scraps. The town is eight months into a year-long grant program and the selectmen discussed how the program might be funded after the grant expires. There is some hope that the grant might be extended, but no assurance.

Participation in the program has not been as strong as hoped for. Osborne said it was projected that removing food products from the trash would create a 30 to 40 percent reduction in tonnage, but in the first six months the volume fell far short of that. Only about 10 people signed up for the composting-only portion of the program. “Others started and then gave up on it,” Osborne said.

Worthington noted that people are not charged for trash bags disposal under the grant and predicted that users would be more careful if they had to pay for them.

Osborne suggested an increase in pay for the transfer station workers, saying that they have more responsibilities than before and that it is hard to find employees willing to work in bad weather and on weekends for less than $20 an hour. Worthington asked him to explore what wages are paid in comparable towns.

Salaries were also on the radar for Town Treasurer Barbara Herbst, who needs a part-time clerk. “I’m trying to pick people I know are qualified,” she said, explaining that in the past she has advertised and gotten a lot of applicants. “I hired a few I thought had the qualifications but then discovered I had to spend a lot of time training them. So now I am using a different approach, calling people who I know are qualified to see if they are interested. But when they hear the rate … .”

She said the average pay for a town treasurer is $77,000 and much more in bigger communities. The hourly rate for the financial clerk must be at least $30 an hour for a position that requires an advance bookkeeper’s skills, she said. “I do think it is important for us to keep up the pace,” she said. 

The Board of Selectmen are considering how to adjust salaries to award performance and longevity, which has caused some consternation among employees. During public comment, Land Use Assistant Donna Hayes questioned the plan to create a $12,500 line item in the 2024-25 budget to be used to adjust salaries in the first quarter based on job reviews. She asked how those adjustments would carry forward into future budget years and who would make the final decisions on salaries.

Lindenmayer said the policy and procedures manual would have to be updated to reflect the new procedure, but that post-budget adjustments would be just for this coming year. 

“We are way behind in how we pay individuals,” he said. “This is just to start. Next year, we will have a policy in place and will have an objective baseline to begin bringing salaries up.”

Kathryn Boughton
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