China select board reconsiders wage increase vote from six weeks ago

by Mary Grow

Six weeks ago, at the Jan. 31 China Select Board meeting, board Chairman Ronald Breton and members Blane Casey and Wayne Chadwick outvoted Jeanne Marquis and Janet Preston to include a 3 percent wage increase for town employees in their proposed 2022-23 municipal budget. Marquis and Preston supported Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood’s recommended 6 percent raises and then a compromise 4.5 percent increase.

“Since then, the world has changed an awful lot,” Breton said at the board’s March 14 meeting. He is now ready to add 1.5 percent, to bring the recommended increase to 4.5 percent.

He does not want to raise local property taxes, however, sparking a discussion of where the money would come from.

Breton’s initial idea was to take $5,000 from the select board’s discretionary fund, currently recommended at almost $153,000; and to cut by 20 percent the recommended $92,000 for town assistance for community support organizations.

Community support organizations include the historical society, two libraries, two lake-related associations and a newspaper. The account also provides funds for volunteer firefighters and rescue unit members, in addition to the annual appropriations for each department.

Chadwick said American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds can be used for bonuses for employees who worked through the pandemic. He proposed one-time bonuses rather than a wage increase, and a review before the 2023-24 budget discussions.

Casey was willing to consider cutting the paving budget. He and other board members are well aware that current high prices for paving, fuel and other categories may require more upward budget adjustments; the town’s trash hauler has already added a fuel surcharge, Casey said. But Casey expects prices to go back down in a matter of months.

Preston and Marquis pointed out that Hapgood’s proposed 6 percent increase was in a balanced budget that did not raise local taxes.

A decision was postponed to the board’s next meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 21. By then Hapgood will have returned from vacation.

Also postponed until Hapgood is present was discussion of higher bag fees for Palermo residents who use China’s transfer station under contract.

Pending deadlines include:

  • The second payment of 2021-22 local property taxes is due at the town office by the close of business Thursday, March 31.
  • The deadline for submitting an application for a homestead property tax exemption is the close of business Friday, April 1, by state law.
  • An increase in transfer station fees for special items like tires and furniture – the list is on the town website, – is effective Friday, April 1.
  • The deadline for submitting bids to buy the town-owned 2006 Harley Davidson motorcycle is 3 p.m. ,Thursday, April 7.

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