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 email@example.com 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.
The selectmen will be discussing a cost of living adjustment (COLA) raise at their meeting on Monday, August 22, although you would not know that by looking at the meeting’s agenda, which has no mention of a COLA. When I asked Karen Koch, the selectmen’s secretary why there was no mention of the COLA, she replied in an email that the COLA discussion was covered in the agenda by “Continued Business.”
The selectmen discussed a proposed COLA at their work session last Monday. At the time they tabled it saying they needed more information. Selectman Lloyd Wood closed the discussion by saying, “We invite the public to contact us if they have a question.”
I requested to be on the agenda for the meeting on Monday the 22nd, so that I could share my concerns about a COLA with the selectmen, but Koch told me in an email, “Selectmen will not entertain outside input during the meeting before they vote.” I pointed out that it seemed to me that Selectman Wood had invited public input. Koch replied, “I have asked again and the answer remained the same.”
Employee compensation in the budget amounts to $1.6 million, accord to Selectman Wood. That breaks down to $1.1 million for wages and $562,000 for benefits. A (hypothetical) 2% across the board increase to wages would represent a $22,216 increase in the budget for the wages line item. Wood was discussing a hypothetical merit raise increase for every single employee. Selectman Carolyn Sundquist said that there was “no doubt” in her mind that every town employee who receives a satisfactory performance review would receive a step increase on the salary schedule. Every step is a 2% increase.
Selectman Bill Marcussen stated that anecdotally he has observed that the cost of oil is down. Wood stated that he knew that inflation is less than 1%.
Despite this, the selectmen will apparently be voting on giving town employees automatic raises in the form of a COLA, separate from any merit raises, which themselves are virtually automatic, according to Sundquist.
According to the most recent information available from the Economic & Labor Market Information Bureau, NH Employment Security, the per capita (average per person) income in Tuftonboro is $33,143.
Yet the average income of a town of Tuftonboro employee, including benefits, is $52,131. Update: Removing the part-time public employees reveals the average full-time average compensation of a Tuftonboro employee to be $71,446
Keep in mind that the $33,143 figure includes the town employees who live in town. If the public employees were excluded, it’s likely that the per capita income for private sector workers in Tuftonboro would be less than $33,143, making the disparity between public and private even greater.
As a reminder, the Wages line item in the town’s budget was increased this year by 15% at Town Meeting. At the time, I suggested that if we thought that public employees deserved (collectively) a 15% increase that we should give it to them, but that we should find savings somewhere else in the budget. The budget was raised by 9% over what had been spent in the previous year.