2008-04-03 / Front Page

Keiser dispels increased salary myths

By Adrienne Downing

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser spent a good portion of Monday night's Town Council budget workshop clearing up the confusion about salary increases for municipal department heads. Several questions had been raised about what many town residents thought amounted to a 30- to 40- percent increase in salary for the positions.

"These are not new funds that we are asking for this year. These amounts were listed as a line item in the fiscal year 2007-08 budget," Keiser said. "When we introduced the 08-09 budget on March 3, we had a column that listed the salaries as they were approved at last year's Financial Town Meeting next to a column with proposed expenditures for this year. The funds that were approved in 2007 at the Financial Town Meeting for the salary increases were listed as a separate part of the budget because we had not yet done the study on pay comparability."

The 2007-2008 budget was approved at the FTM on July 1, but the comparability study was not completed and salary increases were not given until Oct. 1.

"Based on the pay comparability review, salary adjustments for the 9 department heads amounted to $38,000. These funds were approved in the FY2007-08 budget under the Personnel account. In the proposed FY2008-09 budget, the salary adjustment funding appropriated in the current year budget was shifted from the Personnel line item to the respective department salary accounts. The proposed budget for department heads is limited to a COLA increase of 3.25 percent over the funding provided in the current year," Keiser said.

Road paving and sealing

The high cost of fuel and materials is taking its toll on Jamestown roads. A paving study showed that if $4 million were allocated to bring all substandard roads to an acceptable level it does not guarantee that all of the island's roads will be in perfect condition.

"As we bring all of those roads into acceptable condition over the course of four years, other roads are then falling into the fair to poor category. Basically, to just stay in a holding pattern, we need to spend $50,000 more because the costs just keep going up," Keiser said. "The cost for North Main Road alone is over $1 million."

Keiser estimated that approximately 20 percent of the roads will still fall into the fair to poor category after the allocation is spent. "We have to prioritize based on the worst cases first," he said.

Police department

A proposed $400,000 for improvements to the police station was added to the discussion in the capital spending category. "We currently have five sergeants sharing one tiny office and the detective's office was intended to be an interview room. It is no bigger than a closet," Keiser said.

The increase in the amount of equipment officers are required to carry, as well as the addition of female officers necessitate improvements to the current locker room facilities.

The total expansion would amount to an added 600 sq. ft. of space.

"Of the total cost, $100,000 is for the HVAC system. It never really worked properly and now it has reached the end of its life expectancy," Keiser said.

Councilman Robert Sutton asked if the department staffing numbers were expected to hold steady at 19 personnel to allow the expansion to be sufficient.

"Given the factors that do not allow for much expansion on the island, I do not believe our density is going to dictate an increased need," Keiser said.

Discussion on staffing numbers led into an analysis of police overtime and the possibility of a centralized dispatch for police, fire and EMS.

Keiser suggested a budget of $150,000 for police overtime, approximately $58,000 less than last year's expenditure.

Sutton questioned why, with the increased number of officers and dispatchers, so much overtime was necessary.

"It seems to me that if we increased the size of the police force, we should have less need for overtime," he said.

Keiser explained that some overtime was always going to be necessary because of the nature of the small force.

"For instance, we had three new recruits who could not fill shifts alone. So other officers had to fill in those shifts. There are also times when someone is sick or on vacation and an officer is filling in for them," Keiser said. "But, the cost of overtime is still less than if we hired people to fill in for those instances. We would not have enough for them to do when the staff is at full capacity and if we did, we would also have to figure in the added expense of benefits and retirement."

He pointed out that one way the town has saved in overtime costs is through the hiring of civilian dispatchers. "We really have not seen the full cost saving from that because the new contract just took effect on Jan. 1, but that accounts for a lot of the budget decrease in overtime," he said.

"Why don't we have one dispatch center for fire and police?" Councilor Barbara Szepatowski asked. "The second and third shifts handle the calls in one place. It doesn't make sense to break it into three during the day when it works on the other two shifts."

Fire Chief Jim Bryer said he has looked at the possibility and feels it would be a benefit. Both the fire and police departments need equipment upgrades, but having to upgrade only one system may not mean a significant savings, only a streamlined process.

"In anticipation of combining the dispatch for those departments, when we negotiated the new union contract we had the title changed from police dispatcher to public safety dispatcher," Keiser said.

Szepatowski also advocated the installation of a caller ID system at the police station.

"A lot of people call the police department directly instead of 911, and right now we have no way of knowing where those calls are coming from," she said.

Council President Julio Di- Giando continued the workshop toMonday, April 7, at 7 p.m. because of the late hour. The workshop will continue with a discussion of municipal salaries.

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