Salary increases top Orange Annual Town Meeting warrant

Staff Writer
Published: 6/17/2022 3:18:59 PM
Modified: 6/17/2022 3:18:49 PM

ORANGE — Voters at Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday will be asked if they agree to increase by $188,286 the salaries of 14 top positions to make their wages more competitive and try to give employees pause before accepting a job elsewhere.

Residents will meet in the Ruth B. Smith Auditorium at Town Hall at 7 p.m. to act on the seven articles of a Special Town Meeting warrant before rolling into the 36-article Annual Town Meeting warrant.

Budget

Orange has for years dealt with retention issues, as workers often work relatively short periods of time before leaving for municipal positions in other towns for more equitable pay. Department heads were asked in the fall to conduct wage surveys of their counterparts in 10 towns of similar population and budgetary means to Orange within a 50-mile radius and preferably within Franklin County.

Finance Committee Chair Keith LaRiviere explained Town Administrator Gabriele Voelker checked with the State Ethics Commission to confirm having the department heads conduct the surveys violated no conflict-of-interest law. LaRiviere indicated these proposed increases have been a long time coming.

“We’ve been looking at this problem for years,” he said, adding that the adoption of all the proposed increases would cost $188,286, or less than 1% of the overall budget. He stressed any increase would be attached to the position — not the individual currently holding it.

According to the proposed budget, the Finance Committee recommends raising the town administrator’s salary to $136,834.34 — a hike of $29,575, or 27.6%. The committee also recommends increasing the town accountant’s salary by 2%, to $76,500; the collector’s salary by 10.4%, to $51,226.18; the town clerk’s salary by 21.15%, to $64,934; the community development director’s salary by 18.3%, to $81,455; the police chief’s salary by 21.78%, to $125,453.40; the fire chief’s salary by 24%, to $133,976.18; the building commissioner’s salary by 25%, to $80,000; the highway, parks and cemeteries superintendent’s salary by 26.6%, to $92,901.44; the sanitation superintendent’s salary by 5.9%, to $58,186; the Orange Municipal Airport manager’s salary by 38.6%, to $92,041.18; the health agent’s salary by 13.9%, to $74,920.40; the Council on Aging director’s salary by 2%, to $43,414.02; and the library director’s salary by 9.6%, to $67,829.74.

LaRiviere said bringing up these salaries to more appropriate levels will make employees less likely to leave for other jobs. He also acknowledged the proposed increases may upset some taxpayers.

“I think it’s fair to say it’s a lot of work every year to try to come up with a balanced budget that tries to satisfy all the needs of the town,” he said.

His wife, Jane Peirce, who chairs the Selectboard, also said she expects the budget to generate some controversy on Tuesday. Nevertheless, she said, it is important for town employees to “be paid fairly for the great work they do.”

The proposed overall budget for fiscal year 2023 is roughly $24.9 million, up from $22.7 million (or 10%) from the current fiscal year.

The proposed budget also includes a 2.4% increase in Police Department wages, to $1.1 million, and a 6.1% increase in Fire Department wages, to $1.08 million.

The total proposed education budget is $13.1 million, a hike of $7.6%.

Other articles

Also on the Annual Town Meeting warrant are articles pertaining to appropriating and transferring from free cash $28,570 for the fifth-year payment on a five-year lease for the highway boom mower; appropriating and transferring from free cash $16,000 for firefighter protective clothing; and doing the same with $25,000 to start a Building Demolition Fund for the cleanup of properties the building commissioner declares to be unsafe or a public hazard.

Budgets of $865,228 for the Water Enterprise Fund and $1.1 million for the Wastewater Treatment Plant/Sewer Enterprise Fund are also proposed, as is an article about reducing from seven to five the number of Elementary School Committee members.

There are also citizen’s petition articles asking if townspeople wish to have the Selectboard and Board of Health annually rotate their chair, vice chair and clerk positions.

The Special Town Meeting warrant consists of seven articles, including one pertaining to the transfer of $50,000 from free cash for the moving expenses incurred relocating the Town Offices from the Orange Armory to 62 Cheney St.

Both warrants and a copy of the proposed budget are available at bit.ly/3n5dKe1.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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