Chilmark selectmen agree to pay hike for fire chief

Chilmark selectmen Tuesday approved a warrant for the upcoming annual town meeting that includes a substantial pay increase for fire chief David Norton.

The request spurred a spirited discussion.

The discussion began with a memo from personnel committee chairman Jennie Greene that outlined a request from Mr. Norton to increase his annual stipend from $21,000 to $33,000.

Ms. Greene said the personnel board reviewed the salaries of the other Island fire chiefs and learned they were paid between $12,000 and $52,000 annually. But Chilmark is the only town to provide its fire chief with health benefits, Ms. Greene said.

Those health benefits cost the town around $6,400 annually, selectmen said.

Mr. Norton argued he is underpaid. “People have gone around and said the fire chief positions as a whole on this Island are only part time, and it is untrue, at least from my point of view,” he told selectmen Tuesday night. “This is not a part-time position, yet it’s not quite a full position either. But it’s on the verge of becoming full-time.”

Mr. Norton said he would be classified as grade 12 on the employee scale if he were a full-time employee at a pay rate of $33.23 an hour.

Mr. Norton also insisted he is not being fairly compensated for use of his personal vehicle, which he drives to all emergency calls and uses to haul equipment. “My truck goes every day for the town of Chilmark,” he said. “All the wear and tear is for the town of Chilmark.”

Selectmen noted that Mr. Norton is currently paid 50 cents for every mile he drives in service of the town, which is based on standard mileage rates calculated by the federal government; the rates are designed to cover the cost of gas, wear and tear, insurance, and other costs.

Selectman Warren Doty said the current gas allowance for the fire chief, for fiscal year 2011, was $6,600. “We are paying for the use of your vehicle according to government numbers,” he said.

Mr. Norton said he was working full-time hours but at a part-time wage. “I am a one-man wrecking crew, basically, up here. When somebody wants something they call me. If you want a burn permit, they call me. I have to go look at it, I have to go see it,” he said.

He later added: “what am I worth to this town?”

Mr. Fenner praised the fire chief for his years of service, but questioned the amount of the raise.

“I think you do a great job for this town, I’m not taking that away from you. But when you sit down and look at the salary and it’s $21,000,and you make an average of $4,200 in inspections, and you have health insurance for another $6,400 or so; so that $21,000 is now $31,000 or $32,000,” he said.

“We are trying to be fair to you, but we are trying to be fair to the town, too,” he added.

Mr. Doty noted that awarding only a $6,000 increase to the stipend, which is already in the budget, would translate to a pay increase of around 28 percent. “That is an extraordinary increase in a government job for one year . . . nobody else is going to get that type of salary increase,” he said.

Selectmen approved the $6,000 increase to the fire chief’s annual stipend already in next year’s operating budget that must still be approved at the annual town meeting on April 25.

In fiscal year 2010, which ended on June 30, 2010, the fire chief received a salary of $20,004 and an additional $3,745 for inspections, according to town treasurer Melanie Becker.

The system of reimbursing per mile for mileage only began in February 2010. For the calendar year of February 2010 through the end of Jan 2011, the town paid $4,213 in mileage reimbursements.

Dock rules

Selectmen also discussed a request from harbormaster Dennis Jason that new regulations be implemented regarding the storage of lobster pots, bait barrels, and other gear on the floating concrete pier.

Mr. Jason said the dock is being damaged by excessive weight and movement of lobster pots, and warned this could invalidate the town’s warrantee with Bellingham Marine, the Pennsylvania firm hired to build the 300-foot concrete floating dock.

He asked that only two bait barrels be allowed per slip on the floating cement docks, while on the commercial side fishermen be limited to one bait barrel along the inner side of the dock on the south side near Jimmy Morgan’s fish house.

“Nothing else — nets, pots, etc. — is to be left on the dock with the exception that anything which is loaded on, or removed from a boat may be left on the dock for a period not to exceed three days,” Mr. Jason wrote. “The BOS needs to issue a clear directive about this, which I can enforce.”

Selectman Frank Fenner said gear was being concentrated in certain areas of the unitized dock, which was causing the individual sections to list while putting a strain on the bolting.

“It raises concerns because of wracking and twisting,” he said.

Selectmen agreed to allow fisherman to keep four barrels on the floating dock and six up on the West Dock, and added language that would prohibit the barrels from being stored two deep, and instead spread them out to distribute the weight.

Shellfish praise

Selectmen reviewed an annual shellfish propagation report prepared by shellfish constable Isaiah L. Scheffer. They praised the organization, detail, and design of the 30-page report, which included a cover, color photos, and a table of contents.

The report explained that oyster enhancement in Tisbury Great Pond, a joint project between Chilmark and West Tisbury, was doing well. The shell reefs on both sides of the pond were particularly effective for allowing recruitment of oyster spat, the report concluded.

“The entire pond, in addition to these reef sites, experienced an extremely good oyster seed set which, if it survives, will be fruitful for years to come,” the report said.

The report also said the quahog fishery was thriving.

“The quahog harvest in Chilmark remains to be mostly a family fishery. The non-commercial harvest is starting to increase. Not only is the number of bushels harvested yearly increasing, but also by the licenses sold and the different people frequenting the pond,” Mr. Scheffer wrote in his report.

Mr. Scheffer said the scallop program enhancement program was also a huge success. “Basically the approach we try is to increase the number of natural seed sets, meaning we put together spawning sanctuaries to increase egg fertilization. We also collect natural seeding through spat collectors . . . and we also raise the hatchery seed,” he said.

Mr. Scheffer said about one million scallop seed were placed in the ponds last year, as well as approximately one million quahog seed and just over 620,000 oyster seed.