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Staff photo by GRANT MORRIS

Ed Duchesne, along with a miriad of other attendees of Saturday's Hudson Deliberative Session, raise their red voter card in support of an amendment to the town's Operating Budget. Despite the number of cards in the air, the amendment failed.
Sunday, February 12, 2012

Union contracts among 12 warrant articles discussed at Hudson deliberative session

HUDSON – Approximately 80 Hudson residents rolled out of bed early Saturday morning to participate in the town’s 2012 Deliberative Session starting at the Hudson Community Center at 9 a.m.

During the session, which lasted four and half hours, voters discussed 12 warrant articles that will be decided at this year’s Town Meeting on March 13.

Among them are two union contracts – for Hudson’s police, fire, and town supervisors association, and another with the Hudson support staff union – the town’s proposed 2012 operating budget of $28.4 million and the town clerk/tax collector’s proposed 3 percent wage increase, the position’s first since 2007.

Both multi-year union contracts, warrant articles 5 and 6, would provide employees with a $1,500 raise from July, 1 2012-June 30, 2013, plus a $1,000 raise from July 1, 2013-June 30, 2014.

“One of the things that board looked at, and it’s been a particular pet peeve of mine for about 30 years, is that when we do just percentages, the people at the top of the pay scale get a much higher increase than the people at the bottom of the pay scale,” Board of Selectman Chair Shawn Jasper said of the contracts. “We have created, and continue to create when we do percentages, a widening gap between the person at the top and the person at the bottom. So, in attempt to end that, we have gone to a different model which is to give all employees in the bargaining unit the same raise. ”

The police, fire, and supervisors contract covers 27 employees and would cost the town $50,201 in the second year and $35,868 in the third year of the contract.

The support staff’s multi-year contract covers 20 employees, including utility billing clerks, administrative aids, secretaries, custodians and inspectors, and would cost the town $29,866 in the third year and $25,709 in the fourth year of the contract.

“I think the cost-cutting savings are great,” resident and budget committee member John Drabinowicz said of the contracts. “The one thing I can’t get over is the dollar amount raises instead of the percentage. To me, this smacks of socialism, in that you’re trying to compress all salaries to the same level and that it penalizes people that are at the top of their game and rewards people that are at the bottom without any real thought to merit.”

“In theory, to prevent compression, we should be giving our department heads that $1,500 as well,” Jasper said. “We chose not to do that this year, but by giving a percentage, it’s the opposite of compression. … What has happened over the years is that the difference between the person at the top of the pay scale and the person at the bottom, was probably $10,000 or $15,000 and now we’re looking at numbers that in some cases are probably over $50,000 between the top and the bottom and that’s just gotten out of control. This will not change at all the difference between the highest paid employee and the lowest paid employee. ”

A number of citizens stood up to speak on the town’s $28.4 million proposed operating budget, which is level-funded and presents taxpayers with the same $5.18 per $1,000 tax rate as the current year, budget committee Chair Charlie Schweiss said. It is balanced by no cost-of-living increases for town staff and does not include any position reductions or cuts to town services.

Joe Wozniak proposed an amendment to the operating budget to add $9,000 to the town’s solid waste collection account to cover a second yard waste and leaf collection. It was shot down in a public vote of 41-35.

Other warrants, which do present tax rate increases for residents if approved at the polls, include warrants to purchase a $165,000 ambulance, to contribute $300,000 of the town’s general fund towards the town’s Senior Center reserve fund, and to add $500,000 to the town’s road paving budget to pave an additional 2-4 miles of Hudson’s roads in 2012.

Robinson Smith questioned whether the town needed to replace its 2003 Ford ambulance, which currently has 68,540 miles on it. Hudson Fire Chief Shawn Murray said town policy replaces the first-response emergency vehicles after approximately 70,000 miles of use and that the vehicle’s technology also needs an upgrade.

A handful of attendees voiced support for the $300,000 appropriation backing the Senior Center reserve fund, which has long-term plans to share its basement with the town’s cable center. Others debated whether the $300,000 appropriation should come from the town’s surplus funds or from money raised in taxes.

Ted Trost proposed an amendment to raise the $300,000 for the Senior Center through tax increases that officials estimated would add $0.09 per $1,000 to residents’ tax rate. It was rejected by attendees’ vote.

Voters at the deliberative session seemed largely in support of the $500,000 warrant article to pave more of Hudson’s roads, however.

Trost proposed a second amendment to fund the added paving with the same general fund that is proposed to support the Senior Center, but was again shot down by voters.

Jasper said if the $500,000 is approved by voters in March, the board of selectmen intends to make the appropriation part of the operating budget in future years so the town-wide paving budget would become $790,000 going forward to keep tax rates level in future years. The town’s current paving appropriation only allows Hudson to pave 1-2 miles of roads a year at the current cost of asphalt.

The additional warrant items, if approved, would add about 20 cents to the town tax rate.

Toward the end of the meeting, three voter-sponsored warrant articles presented by Smith faced mostly opposition from participants who lasted all four and half hours of the Deliberative Session.

Article 15, which proposes charging non-residents parking meter fees to park at Benson Park, faced opposition from town officials who said the cost to implement would exceed the revenues it would generate.

Article 16, calls for town offices and departments to standardize contracting and purchase requests by requiring 3 estimates for any purchases or contracts over $250. It was also talked down by town officials.

But it was article 17, which proposes monetary rewards and vacation time for Hudson employees who reduce waste, fraud and abuse, that ruffled the most feathers among officials and residents.

“I’m offended by the implication of the article, particularly as it relates to our employees,” Jasper said. “We have the most dedicated group of employees that I know of, anywhere. … There is no waste, fraud, or abuse that has ever been brought to the board of selectmen’s attention regarding any of the employees that we have working for us today.”

Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or Follow Gill on Twitter (@Telegraph_MAG).