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Norwich Workers To See Big Raises

With a less than 1 percent increase in the proposed municipal budget, Norwich residents won’t see a decrease in services, but a few town employees could see salary increases as large as 31 percent.

“We had people who are significantly underpaid,” Town Manager Neil Fulton said last night at a Selectboard meeting in explaining the proposed hefty pay raises. “We could never hire someone to replace them at those salaries.”

Non-bargaining unit employees have been receiving cost-of-living increases based solely on the Consumer Price Index. In an effort to make sure they were being compensated fairly, the town hired Condrey and Associates to conduct a study that evaluated employees and recommended pay increases.

For instance, the planning director will see an increase of 18 percent from about $50,000 to $59,704, the recreation director is seeing a 31 percent increase from about $45,000 to $59,704 and the finance director will see a 23 percent increase from about $48,000 to $59,704.

Fulton also recommended an increase in hours for an assistant town clerk from eight hours to 20 hours per week, at the town clerk’s request.

In a presentation , Fulton proposed a town budget of about $4 million budget for the coming fiscal year, only $38,141 more than the current year’s.

Fulton’s preliminary projected increase to the tax rate is about 2 percent, but he said that is likely to change once the new grand list goes into effect in April. Norwich has gone through a town-wide reappraisal this year, which will likely increase the value of the grand list and could lower the 2 percent increase.

But a low increase to the tax rate doesn’t necessarily mean that people will pay less in property taxes, Fulton said. For example, in 2004, there was a reappraisal that caused a dramatic drop in the tax rate, but it didn’t lead to a significant reduction in taxes.

The meeting came to a head during the discussion about the public works department when Selectwoman Linda Cook brought up a line item that is for “Class 3 winter purchase service.” She pointed out that for the past three years, either $23,000 or $10,000 has been assigned to that line item, but no money has been spent.

Cook questioned why the town should have a line item for something that says “zero, zero, zero for three years.”

Tempers quickly rose when Selectman Keith Moran said that he’d heard residents accuse the town of having a “slush fund” at the end of the year and he worried that $10,000 allocated for winter purchase service would end up there.

As soon as the words “slush fund” came out of Moran’s mouth, Fulton raised his voice and said, “I do take offense to that because that is not accurate.”

Selectboard Chairman Christopher Ashley and Selectman Ed Childs backed Fulton by saying that it’s not the town manager’s decision how excess money is spent, but instead it’s a Selectboard decision. At the beginning of each fiscal year, the Selectboard sets the tax rate and decides if it wants excess money to go into the undesignated fund, or if it would like to use it to ease the tax burden.

Fulton said that his department heads know that he will not tolerate excess spending.

“It will not happen under my watch,” Fulton said. “It bothers me to be accused of something that does not happen.”

The room was silent for several seconds before the Selectboard moved on to another matter. At the end of the meeting, Fulton was laughing about the matter and said he was glad that Moran raised it.

The rest of the department heads are scheduled to continue the budget conversation on Nov. 28.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.