Last week the Tuftonboro selectmen voted to give town employees a 3.5% raise. This will consist of a 2% merit raise if the employee receives a positive performance review, in addition to a 1.5% Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). The COLA is pegged to the Consumer Price Index of northern New England, which changes from year to year. Most people who work in the private sector do not receive an automatic COLA raise. But public employees are to receive these raises, in addition to merit raises. Selectman Carolyn Sundquist stated on August 15, “There is no doubt in my mind that anyone with a satisfactory [not positive] review will move up a step” in the compensation schedule — meaning that employees will receive a raise.
When I asked the selectmen whether town employees who did not receive positive performance reviews would receive a COLA raise, Selectmen Bill Marcussen replied yes. In other words, according to Marcussen, all town employees will receive automatic raises even if they do not receive positive performance reviews. Indeed, on August 15, Marcussen stated, “In an ideal world, we would always like to give people as much more money as we can.” After I pressed them, the selectmen conceded that town employees should not receive raises if they receive poor performance reviews.
As a reminder, what Tuftonboro spends on public-employee compensation increased by 15% last year, following our Town Meeting vote. It now totals $1.6 million annually. At the time, I suggested that if we wanted to give our employees raises, we should do so — but that we should simultaneously cut spending elsewhere in the budget. Carla Lootens, chairman of the budget committee, emphatically stated at Town Meeting that there was “no fat” to be cut from the budget. The 2016 budget appropriated 9% more than Tuftonboro spent in 2015.
According to the NH Bureau of Employment Security, the average income for an individual in Tuftonboro is $33,143. The average total compensation of a full-time employee of the town of Tuftonboro is about two and half times higher than that: $84,910.
You can request a public document titled “2016 personnel administration” from Karen Koch at firstname.lastname@example.org to see for yourself. This document shows that the average full-time public employee receives approximately $84,910 in total compensation. I’m using “total compensation” instead of “salary” because total compensation represents the cost to the taxpayer for each employee. For instance, one full-time library employee currently receives a $41,933 salary, but his true cost to the taxpayer is $59,533.50. During the meeting, I stated that the average full-time public employee receives around $70,000 in compensation. After speaking with Selectman Lloyd Wood during the meeting, I realized that I had erroneously included two part-time library employees as full-time employees.
In her article about the Tuftonboro selectmen’s meeting, Elissa Paquette wrote that my conversation with Lloyd about public employees was “not clear.” I know it was unclear to Elissa during the meeting, because she asked me to clarify—which I did. You can watch the video of our exchange judge for yourself whether I explained it clearly.
As I stated repeatedly at the meeting, I am not questioning whether any particular employees deserve the salary and benefits that they are currently receiving. My question is this: Is it sustainable for a small town like ours to pay our town employees more than twice what the average resident earns? And if we wish to do so, shouldn’t we trim the budget elsewhere to keep costs from ballooning over time?
This post has been submitted as a letter to the editor of the Granite State News, and should appear in the September 1, 2016, edition.