Harpswell board approves 2% pay hike, to consider merit pay

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HARPSWELL — Town employees will receive a 2 percent wage increase after a unanimous vote of the Board of Selectmen on May 10.

The board will also consider giving merit-based increases in future years.

Town Administrator Kristi Eiane recommended the 2 percent hike after a series of meetings with department heads.

“In all cases, the performance was deemed satisfactory,” Eiane said.

The increase is in line with recent years; Eiane said that employees received 2 percent raises in 2010 and 2011.

In all, the increases will add $18,000 to the town’s gross payroll, which is approximately $800,000.

One exception to the across-the-board increase was made to the per diem rate for the animal control officer, a position currently held by George Lee Johnson. The ACO pay will increase from $35.87 to $40.80 a day, a 13.7 percent increase.

Eiane said the increase was justified based on the position’s lack of benefits.

“This person is basically available around the clock, 24/7,” she said. “We felt that there are no benefits to this; there’s no accrued vacation or sick time, and we felt that this seemed to be reasonable compensation.”

An alternate ACO, who fills in when the ACO is unavailable, will see a similar percentage increase, from $26.01 to $29.65 per day. Eiane said that the disparity in pay between the two positions was due to the length of time served in the office.

The video filming position for the town also received a disproportionate bump of 12 percent. Board members pointed out that, while that sounds high, the actual increase is from $10.71 per hour to $12 per hour.

“Percentage-wise, it’s enormous,” Chairwoman Elinor Multer said. “Dollars and cents, not so great.”

Multer floated the idea of creating a fund to pay for merit increases next year. She suggested that it could be used to reward four or five exceptional employees.

“I would like us to think about the possibility of setting aside a relatively small sum of additional money that could be distributed as merit pay, but it would have to have criterion and so on,” she said.

Multer said that the town would have to explore the idea carefully in order to prevent a culture of expectation to emerge.

“I am only interested in this if there is an understanding that it’s for really exceptional performance, that it is the exception and not the rule,” she said. “When it becomes the routine, and everybody expects to get merit pay, then it becomes a raise and a raise is something different to me. … It’s something that interests me if we can keep a lid on it.”

Selectman Jim Henderson said the idea is worthy of consideration. “I think the tricky part would be making the criteria very clear,” he said.

Multer said that reallocating existing pay increases to fund a pay increase would be undesirable.

“I don’t want to be in the position of giving to one that you’re therefore taking away from another,” she said.

Eiane noted that, for the first time, Deputy Town Administrator Terri-Lynn Sawyer had participated in meetings with Eiane and department heads to review performance evaluations.

In each case, said Eiane, she asked for feedback from department heads on how the administrative staff could help to improve performance within the departments.

“One of the things that we really wanted to accomplish this year,” she said, “was to ask the department heads, what were the things that the administrative staff could do to help them achieve success?”

Eiane’s own performance has not yet been reviewed by the board, and so was not affected by the board’s vote. She said that she has gathered sample evaluation forms from other towns so that the board can better determine what criteria it would like to use for that purpose.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or matthh@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hh_matt.