SANDOWN – While a few minor sums were added to and taken from the 2014 town budget during the budget committee’s public hearing, the most contested issue that faced the group was the recreation director’s proposed salary increase.
Approval of budgets went relatively quickly during the Thursday, Jan. 16 meeting until the recreation department’s figures came up. The approximately 15 percent increase to the recreation director’s part-time salary had rubbed some in town the wrong way and at the hearing, those both for and against the hike spoke their minds.
The commission’s proposal included a $2.72 per hour raise for the director’s position, held by Deb Brown. The pay went from $18.28 to $21 an hour, an increase that would bring the annual salary for the 34-hour-per-week position to $35,766.64.
The board of selectmen passed recreation’s proposal to the budget committee with no dispute, and though a majority of the budget committee approved it during its first review, the membership was split.
But last week, a motion by committee member Cathy Gorman to reduce the increase to a 2 percent raise, in line with the selectmen’s decision for the rest of the town’s workers, was agreed to nearly unanimously by the committee.
During the selectmen’s and the committee’s first reviews, recreation committee members justified the raise with what they said were selectmen promises from 2007. At that time the hourly wage was brought up by a double-digit percentage increase, and some recreation commission members thought that included in that increase was an agreement that a pay matrix would be drawn up for all town employees and the pay further increased, they said, to bring it in line with similar towns.
Last week, Gorman said she thought the raise was out of line; she had a different interpretation of the selectmen’s plans. She said the minutes of a 2007 selectmen’s meeting on the matter didn’t indicate any promises on behalf of the then board and even if they had, the numbers asked for the position then were notably lower than what was being sought this year.
Ron Dulong, chair of the recreation committee, and Gorman went back and forth with minutes from 2007 with differing interpretations of what was promised, if anything at all.
Others pointed to the fact that no board of selectmen can promise something to be delivered by a future board.
Dulong argued that when compared to other department heads in town, the recreation director position was the lowest paid. Brown has been taking on more responsibilities and handling programs that have grown significantly, he said.
Former selectman and budget committee member Brenda Copp spoke against the raise and took issue with Dulong’s argument that Brown’s position should be compared to the rest of the town’s department heads and supervisors. Copp said the recreation position was part time.
“It’s a different level of job. We can’t compare the police chief’s or the fire chief’s responsibilities to a recreation director,” said Copp.
Deb Brown said no one was comparing the jobs in that way.
Copp’s larger argument was that the raise singled out one individual in town, unlike a matrix that would increase the pay of all of the town’s employees. Copp said it could be argued that many Sandown employees had low salaries when compared to other towns.
Resident Gordon Champion took umbrage at the idea that a decision made in 2007 on a potential salary increase should be taken as is today. “This is not 2007. I’m tired of hearing that,” Champion said, noting a few of the differences between the two times, from the president in office to the value of his home.
The committee ultimately approved the motion with all but Steve Brown, Deb Brown’s husband, voting in favor. Though Steve Brown had voted for the budget and increase during the first review, he said at last week’s meeting that he was not going to vote, and did not speak on the issue.
The recreation budget was eventually approved at a gross expense of $87,281, down from the committee’s last approved number of $90,882.12.
The remaining figures were approved quickly.