Raises in question after budget move

HUDSON – The annual raises for non-union personnel are in question after the Budget Committee removed them from the town budget and the selectmen couldn’t agree whether to put them in a warrant article.

Typically the raises have gone before the voters as a warrant article. This year, however, the selectmen included the raises in the town’s operating budget.

The Budget Committee recently voted to take the raises out of the budget, with one member abstaining. Selectman Ken Massey, who is a representative on the committee, voted against it.

After the Budget Commission decision, selectmen could not reach a consensus Tuesday about whether to put the raises in a warrant.

When they discussed the issue in August, board members agreed the increases should be in a budget line item, not a separate warrant article.

Nine people fall into a group that is not covered by a union or association in the town government. They are the town administrator, police and fire chiefs, community development director, road agent, finance director, police prosecutor, recreation director and assistant to the selectmen.

At Town Meeting, voters have approved having raises broken out from the budget and in separate warrant articles, Budget Committee member Shawn Jasper said. Although those articles are non-binding advisory articles, they still indicate the will of the voters, he said.

“All raises for all full-time employees go through the same process,” Jasper said.

Wage increases for non-union personnel should undergo the same level of scrutiny as all the increases and contracts for other employees, he said.

“It’s the purview of the governing body to make those decisions,” Selectman Bill Cole said regarding the raises.

The increases, which equal about $20,000, should be in the budget, Cole said.

“It’s something the Board of Selectmen should be trusted to administer on a yearly basis,” he said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Cole said, he would not support the increases as a warrant article. If the raises were rejected, the board would not be able to grant any increases to those people or grant cost-of-living adjustments for them, he said.

Under recent legislation, if a warrant article fails, selectmen are prohibited from spending money on that item.

Last year, the board granted a 3 percent cost-of-living raise for non-union personnel after a similar warrant article was rejected at Town Meeting.

The Board of Selectmen should have the discretion to give raises to department heads based on merit, Selectman Rick Maddox said.

To lump a diverse group of people together on one warrant article muddies the water, Maddox said. Some voters may vote against increases for the entire group based on their feelings about one department.

“If (voters) elect us to do our job, we should be given the tools to do that,” Maddox said.

The selectmen do have discretion within the selectmen’s budget to give raises, Selectman Terry Stewart.

Even with the raises in the operating budget, citizens still had access to the information, she said. The budget is an open document that any citizen can review, Stewart said.

“I feel it should be in the budget,” she said. “It shouldn’t be a warrant article.”