Personnel Board Rallies for Staff

            Personnel Board member Kristine Nash told the Rochester Select Board at the latter’s public meeting on Tuesday night that a study of the town’s Personnel Bylaw is working against Rochester because nine key staffers not subject to collective bargaining have no further step increases and are more likely to be lost in a competitive market.

            “I think in the long run, when you see what the cost is, it’s really insignificant when you look at the employees who are really the heart and soul,” said Nash.

            In speaking publicly on Tuesday, Nash summarized the 16-month history of the town’s Personnel Board, saying one of its three goals was to review the FY24 compensation and classification plan.

            While several “max employees” are affected at an approximate annual $2,000 or less, one unidentified employee is classified way below what that employee’s responsibilities and performance dictate, according to Nash.

            The total effect if the town were to correct the problem according to recommendations made: “I would be shocked if it’s more than $35,000,” said Nash, adding that bringing parity to those positions whose jobs have responsibilities means “stepping up to the plate.”

            Nash identified issues with the FY24 plan and made two proposals on behalf of the Personnel Board, one for all bylaw employees and one for all new hires.

            The Personnel Bylaw addresses all town employees not covered by contracts. The list of such employees has fluctuated in number and now stands at 21.

            These employees are not covered by a CBA so, other than a cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA), there is no outline for an increase. A “max employee” cannot get a step increase under the current system.

            What Nash says the board found in studying the bylaw against the town’s practices is that there was no clear view of how an employee’s grade is determined. Moreover, there are no approved job descriptions, which Nash says are essential to employee evaluation.

            Another discovery was that an employee’s hourly rate of pay was a key factor in determining that employee’s step increases. “Grades were backed into,” said Nash, rather than going forward as prescribed by the bylaw.

            In some instances, she discovered duties in lower-grade jobs held more responsibility than those in jobs classified as higher-grade.

            “We spent months and months looking at and developing some new proposals for the (Select) Board to consider,” said Nash.

            The Personnel Board’s proposal for FY25 is to classify all current town employees with the goal of eventually bringing everyone to the same level, something Nash considers impossible in the immediate because of the budgetary ramifications.

            “This is really a journey, not an event,” she said. “We’re trying to address that and trying to do that in a way that is financially sound for the town.”

            The proposed plan would not change the hourly rate of pay for current employees. It would rid the bylaw of the term “grade” and add four new step increases besides COLA.

            Select Board member Adam Murphy asked Nash if the Personnel Board’s proposal is comparable to other area towns. Nash said the Personnel Board collected data from Marion, Mattapoisett, Lakeville, Berkley and West Bridgewater, then narrowed down to similar budget and housing costs and population for stricter comparatives.

            “Rochester wasn’t at the bottom of the barrel … the problem was lots of variables that we didn’t know. … In most instances, we were in the middle,” said Nash.

            Select Board member Brad Morse asked about a longevity policy. Nash said the proposal will not add longevity.

            Town Administrator Glenn Cannon said that longevity traditional kicks in at the end of the career. Nash said some towns pay longevity in another check but still calculate longevity into retirement.

            Murphy recommended posting a public meeting with the Personnel Board, Finance Director Suzanne Szyndlar and himself, then reach out with conclusions to the Finance Committee.

            In an earlier appointment, the Select Board heard from Finance Committee Chairman Kris Stoltenberg regarding the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in the annual budget process.

            Stoltenberg proposed an idea of allowing the Finance Committee to estimate a 3% COLA so the committee would be spared the incremental adjustments it makes with every meeting during budget season.

            “Every time we look at the sheet, we get to the bottom line and then make adjustments,” said Stoltenberg, who thinks Szyndlar will have an easier time with revenue sheets making assumptions up front to get closer to real numbers.

            Stoltenberg estimates a factor of 3% COLA will impact the town’s operating budget by approximately $60,000. Stressing that FinCom is an advisory committee, he called the proposal one of convenience and said it does not impose anything on other boards’ processes.

            “We know for a fact we’re not going to have a zero (COLA) … we’re probably not going to have a 1% COLA … probably between 2 and 3%,” he said. “If there’s some dire problem in the town and we can’t go to 3% … it’s kind of a circumstance I can’t forsee. … We don’t have a point of controversy.”

            Murphy said he spoke with Szyndlar, and all of the Select Board members said they have no issue with FinCom working on an adjusted scale for the purposes of its own expediency.

            “I don’t have any issue using the numbers that you’re using for your own mechanism,” said Murphy.

            Ciaburri said it will be nice to have the information, and Morse added it sends a good message out to the employees. “We know this is a tough budget season,” said Morse. “Next year’s not going to be much better,” said Ciaburri.

            American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds must be appropriated by December 31, but Plymouth County has requested an application from member towns by March 1.

            In all, Rochester was awarded $1,021,846.89 in total ARPA funds, $216,413 which has been used to acquire digital radios, leaving a remaining amount of $805,433.89.

            Weigel explained that by tying the purchase of a fire truck into healthcare, Rochester is able to use ARPA funding.

            Murphy was surprised at the discussion, confessing his assumption that remaining ARPA funding would go to the public-safety construction. He requested the board table the matter pending further discussion.

            With a March 1 Plymouth County deadline to file, it is imperative that the Select Board call a Special Meeting this month. As of Tuesday, the next scheduled meeting of the board is March 4.

            Resident Therese Valente made a pitch for Rochester to declare a low-salt status for Route 105 to “protect what we have in the watershed. I don’t think it’ll cost us anything,” said Valente.

            Highway Surveyor Jeff Eldridge was in attendance and said Rochester is “already below what everybody else uses. I don’t know what the designation is going to do.”

            Eldridge also noted that Route 105 is already designated for low-salt treatment as a state highway.

            Murphy agreed, adding that state vehicles are certified with annually calibrated mixtures but made sure Valente knew her concerns were being heard. “Your message was received, we appreciate your concern, we can definitely look into it and get back to you,” he said.

            Eldridge said the standard practice in Rochester is to go out with a salt/sand mix twice, at the beginning of a storm and at the end. “It’s mostly about safety,” he said, noting that it has become increasingly difficult to obtain sand.

            Ciaburri said most complaints coming into Town Hall say there isn’t enough salt on the roads.

            “I’m trying to balance other safety. I live in this town, I drink the water,” said Eldridge.

            Ciaburri said it would be interesting to get the information back from the state, noting that oftentimes Route 105 is dry when other roads are not yet clear of ice. Morse suggested turning it to Eldridge’s purview, and he told the board he would be amenable to hearing back from Valente regarding the state’s response to her questions.

            In his Town Administrator’s Report, Cannon said that preliminary budgets are out and that he is working with the Finance Committee to “get a balanced budget to bring to the Select Board.”

            The Select Board voted to amend the language of a previously approved bylaw amendment allowing Fire Chief Scott Weigel to postpone his retirement. The state allowed Rochester to cap the limit at age 67. Weigel wants to see through the building of the new fire station.

            Weigel announced his department has received an equipment grant of $15,107 from the state Department of Fire Services.

            The Select Board entered executive session and did not return to open session.

            The next meeting of the Rochester Select Board is scheduled for Monday, March 4, at 6:00 pm at the Senior Center on Dexter Lane, also accessible live via Zoom.

Rochester Select Board

By Mick Colageo

Leave A Comment...