NORTH ADAMS -- The City Council passed the fiscal 2013 Classification and Compensation Plans on Tuesday night, but only after a lengthy debate over whether it had been properly vetted by the city's Finance Committee.
Councilor John Barrett III asked for the plans to be referred to the Finance Committee, stating that he had several concerns, including increases in salaries for several positions and "discrepancies" between the compensation plan and the budget.
"A year ago, we were told the city was going down the tubes and now we're giving out a $10,000 pay raise," he said, pointing out an increase for the manager of the Peter W. Foote Vietnam Veteran Memorial Skating Rink. "My issue is that four or five individuals are receiving increases, while the rank and file employees are not receiving any increase. I don't think this was vetted or looked at. There's no consistency."
Councilor Alan Marden, chairman of the Finance Committee, said the classification and compensation plans were received along with the draft budget, and every salary increase was explained over the course of the committee's five-meeting budget review.
"The rationale for each of the raises was explained," Marden said. "I told you we reviewed and approved the classification and compensation plans at our last meeting when I read our report and made our recommendation."
Councilor David Bond, a member of the Finance Committee, took issue with
"To say it has not been vetted properly is insulting," he said. "The city's greatest asset is the people who work for it and keep it moving forward. We saw it. Every salary increase was discussed."
Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said a change in the auditor's salary was to bring it in line with that of the city assessor, since both positions carry similar responsibilities and the individuals in the positions have similar experience and knowledge bases. In addition, he said a raise for the Veterans Services Agent, which was approved along with the other member towns, was given because of his expanded responsibilities and outreach into the community.
"In the case of the rink manager, when he took on the position a year ago, we had agreed if he did certain things -- drove up revenue, performed mechanical maintenance, etc. -- I would increase his salary," he said. "Typically, other rink managers around the state make about $60,000."
The mayor added that the discrepancy between the compensation plan and budgeted salaries was that he had figured in a 2 percent raise -- for July 1 and Jan. 1, 2013 -- for non-union employees.
"The difference is that instead of putting the money in a reserve account or not having it, we've budgeted it in advance," he said.
The plans were approved 8 to 1, with Barrett casting the dissenting vote.
The council also approved a $1,200 stipend for City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau, which was added to the budget by the council to compensate her for the 25 or so council meetings she works at during the year.
Although former City Clerk Mary Ann Abusi applauded the move during the council's Public Comment period, Councilor Jennifer Breen spoke out against it and cast the only dissenting vote.
"I'm sick of government spending money we don't have," she said. "Last year, the mayor presented us with a ‘dooms day' scenario, talking about furloughs and cuts if a Proposition 2 1/2 override didn't happen. It didn't. With all the cuts that have been made and taxes that have been raised, we're still giving out raises. How is this possible? I find it odd."
Alcombright replied that he did not believe a $1,200 stipend would send the city into bankruptcy and that in order to keep quality employees, they needed to be rewarded to ensure they would stay.
"What I find odd is this taxpayer mentality that you didn't have a few months ago," he said. "I find it odd that you approved a budget that included these raises. I find it odd you supported the compensation and classification plan."
Bond moved the question to a vote before the debate could continue further.
In other news
* A resolution allowing the mayor to apply for a Parkland Acquisition and Renovation Communities program grant for needed improvements required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
* An order allowing the increase of pension allotments for surviving spouses of deceased city employees from $250 to $500 annually.
* A resolution allowing the city to pursue the Community Choice Aggregation Program, which would let the city negotiate and lock in low-cost electrical rates for residents and businesses.
* A transfer of $454,000 from certified free cash to the stabilization account.
* A appropriation of $49,860.75 from the parking meter reserve account to lease three police cruisers and a vehicle for the fire director. Barrett cast the lone vote against it.
* An order transferring the $252,914.89 from certified free cash to the Department of Public Services and unclassified accounts for overages in several accounts including Veterans Services and health insurance.
* Set a public hearing date for National Grid to lay underground power lines at Hodges Cross Road and on the Mohawk Trail for July 10.
* Set a public hearing date of July 24 at 7:30 p.m. to declare property at 160 Eagle St., owned by Michael Hernandez, as a public nuisance and that it be razed or rehabilitated.