Scarborough town workers agree to pay freeze
Council wants School Department employees to do likewise
SCARBOROUGH — Unionized and non-unionized town employees have agreed to skip pay hikes in the coming fiscal year, Scarborough Town Manager Tom Hall announced at Wednesday's Town Council meeting.
Now, he and councilors are challenging School Department employees to follow suit.
Although some details still need to be worked out, Hall praised his workers for their willingness to help the town in its efforts to maintain this year's property tax rate of $12.15 without sacrificing town jobs or community services. After the meeting, he said the decline in revenues and state aid has forced the town to look at salaries, which make up the bulk of the budget.
"If you look at 1 percent of the town and school payroll, it's $325,000," he said. "A 3 percent cost of living increase is a $1 million proposition. Of that, the town side is about one-third."
After Hall approached his department heads, who "stepped right up" and agreed to a salary freeze, he said, they took the proposal to their unions.
Police and dispatch are represented by two different unions. Both are in their second year of three-year contracts. The union contract for paramedics and fire personnel is up for negotiations this year, he said.
"Even with their contracts, (police and dispatch) are receptive to being part of the solution," Hall said.
Hall said under his proposal, step increases that reward employees for length of employment or educational attainment would be maintained. Employees in the School Department's central office at Town Hall have agreed to the wage freeze, as well, he added.
Calling on the School Board to ask its employees to make the same sacrifices, Councilor Shawn Babine Wednesday read a draft of a resolution he has crafted that he hopes to bring before the council for approval. The resolution states support for municipal and school employees and stresses the importance of treating them all "fairly, respectfully and similarly."
It declares that holding salaries to current levels is preferable to municipal and school personnel layoffs, and asks the School Board to join the town "in supporting a Job Savings Measure through flat funding for all employee wages, compensation, benefits and other amenities provided for in any contract."
In a phone interview, council Chairman Mike Wood said he's already had phone calls from citizens who are upset over a proposed increase to the school budget.
"Sometime in the near future I wouldn't be surprised if some statement, if not a resolution, that exemplifies the same points (as Babine's) is adopted by the council," he said.
Although the school budget's 3.5 percent increase is an accurate representation of the increase in overall spending from the current fiscal year to the proposed fiscal 2010 budget, Babine said, "as with any statistic it depends on how you look at it."
"The impact to the tax rate is closer to 8 percent, which translates to a 50-cent increase to the mil rate," he said.
Babine stressed that the "core of the issue" is the inequity between school and municipal employees.
"We need to look at the 'family of employees' and not at what the individual employee is getting," he said.
When a town or school system is forced to lay workers off so that others may be given raises, those who remain must take on more responsibility to make up for fewer people, he said.
Hall said he will give the council Finance committee the fiscal 2010 budget in March and they will meet April 10 and 17. The council hopes to approve the final version on May 6, he said.
A public school budget validation vote is targeted for the second week of May, Hall said. This year, the referendum will ask voters who do not approve if it's because the amount is too high or too low.
"I hope the message is loud and clear to the school folk," Wood said Wednesday. "They're good people, well-intended, but they need to sharpen their pencils."