NORTH ADAMS -- Mayor Richard Alcombright defended salary increases for nonunion employees and police dispatchers included in his fiscal 2013 budget Monday, saying he's "trying to make adjustments where I can, when I can" to right inequities in city compensation policies.
"[Salaries] need to be made more competitive," Alcombright said at a meeting of the Finance Committee. "When you lose three cops in one year and then run up $100,000 in overtime ... those shifts come back to haunt you."
At the meeting, committee members, having been asked to review the raises, voted to approve slight changes made to their language.
Alcombright said he'd promised the raises to these employees.
They comprise a 1 percent raise effective Jan. 1, and a 1 percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2012 for nonunion employees. For police dispatchers, they comprise a 1 percent raise effective Jan. 1, and a 1 percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2012, as well as an 8 percent "adjustment" effective Jan. 1.
Also included are $5,000 annual stipends for the city's police and fire directors and the city's police lieutenant.
The new compensation plan raises a starting city dispatcher's salary to $13.03 per hour from $11.90 -- still below Adams, Pittsfield and Williamstown, whose dispatchers all earn more than $13.50. The city's Verizon 911 grant is to cover the cost of dispatcher raises.
Speaking to Alcombright's point, City Councilor and committee member Lisa Blackmer advocated for a reformed capital planning process to stem heavy outlay on overtime and other contingent spending.
"We could hire more cops for the amount we're spending on overtime," Blackmer said. " ... Offer a higher salary and cut back on those benefits. It will help us attract people in the long run."
Alcombright entertained potentially using funds out of the $83,000 the city will save by removing the position of Commissioner of Public Safety to this end.
"We're looking at some other comprehensive changes that we haven't fully vetted yet," he said.
City Councilor John Barrett III advanced the argument that now is not the time to be giving out raises. He said, with the new changes, the city has added $500,000 to the budget over the last three years.
"We're in a fiscal crisis and the message that's being sent out to the public is if you're in the right category, you'll get extra money," Barrett said.
Alcombright argued that similar raises occurred while Barrett was mayor during Mitt Romney's term as governor, when the economy was worse. Alcombright also said the changes had been approved by representatives with the state Department of Revenue.
City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau attributed inequities in compensation for the city's employees to the institution of longevity -- compensation based on seniority -- years ago.
"The biggest mistake came when longevity got put in there," she said. "It seems like from that point on is when I began to see all the discrepancies."
To reach Phil Demers, email