North Yarmouth selectmen weigh reduced employee benefits

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NORTH YARMOUTH — The Board of Selectmen unanimously curbed benefits for future town employees on Tuesday, but tabled consideration of the same reductions for current employees.

Among the changes, proposed by the town’s Personnel Committee, are elimination of several paid holidays: Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President’s Day, Patriot’s Day, and Columbus Day, as well as a half day on Christmas Eve. New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving Day remain, along with Christmas Day and the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Under the new benefits structure, paid vacation after one full year of service would be 10 days for 40-hour-per-week employees and eight for 35-hour workers. After seven years, 40-hour employees would earn 15 days of vacation, and 35-hour employees would earn 12 days. After 12 years those numbers would be 20 and 16 days, respectively. Vacation time would be capped at 20 days for 40-hour employees.

Full-time and salaried employees now earn 10 days of vacation after one year, 15 days after five years, 20 days after 10 years and 25 days after 20 years. Current employees who have 25 vacation days would not lose any days, even after the benefits are changed.

Selectmen previously discussed the Personnel Committee’s recommendations on Feb. 15, when they voted to table the matter until all five members were present. Selectman Mark Verrill, absent at that meeting, also was not at Tuesday’s meeting.

The board on Tuesday was initially split on which route to take. After an initial motion by Selectman Steven Palmer to accept the Personnel Committee’s recommendations, Selectman Paul Napolitano argued it would be unfair to current employees to take away existing holidays and increase the time of service required for vacation days.

“I think we should grandfather the existing employees to the existing standard at which they were hired at, and then new hirees would fall under … the new policy that would be changed in this schedule,” Napolitano said. “I think we’re taking too much away, and we’re not giving anything in return.”

Palmer, who represents the Board of Selectmen on the Personnel Committee with Verrill, said the group voted unanimously on its recommendations and thought 12 1/2 holidays were excessive.

“I don’t think that there are too many opportunities in the private sector where people get 12 1/2 days of holidays for a given year,” Palmer said. “… It’s a lot of days. Days when people could be working, certainly. And when we looked at the vacation (schedule), we really didn’t think that we were breaking anyone’s back with an excessive or difficult vacation schedule.”

Palmer noted that with employees earning 25 vacation days, on top of 12 1/2 holidays, “you’re talking (about) a considerable amount of time when people are not working but they are being paid by the town to be employed by the town.”

Chairman Robert Wood agreed that 12 1/2 holidays are a lot, but he proposed a smaller reduction in holidays than the committee recommended. He also resisted grandfathering holidays, saying “it should be everybody or nobody.”

The board split 2-2 on adopting the Personnel Committee’s full recommendations, with Palmer and Selectman Carol Burgess in favor and Napolitano and Wood opposed.

A second motion, by Napolitano, to accept the committee’s recommendations, but to grandfather vacation time for current employees and cut only Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President’s Day and Columbus Day, also failed. Napolitano and Wood were in favor and Palmer and Burgess were opposed.

Ultimately the board voted unanimously in favor of the recommendations for future full- and part-time employees, but tabling the discussion about current employees.

The discussion began when the town sought ways to cut costs; one suggestion was to close Town Hall on Fridays, when it is now open for five hours. As a result, Town Administrator Marnie Diffin explained last week, a typical employee’s 40-hour work week would drop to 35.

But to receive benefits, employees must be salaried or work 40 hours a week, Diffin said, “so if you were going to cut five hours out, all of a sudden no one gets benefits.”

Diffin said she told the town’s Personnel Committee that if it was going to look into closing Town Hall on Fridays, it would have to reconsider North Yarmouth’s benefits plan. As a result, the committee produced recommendations with provisions for maintaining employees at 40 hours a week, reducing full-time employment to 35 hours, maintaining benefits for current employees, a plan for new-hire 40-hour employees, and benefits for new part-time employees who work between 32 and 40 hours.

Discussion also touched on the idea that if Town Hall were closed on Fridays, having it open on holidays where office foot traffic may be significant could help make up for that closure, Diffin said.

Diffin said there had also been conversation about whether to establish certain holidays, and to allow employees as a group to choose among two or three others to take off.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.