Tisbury fire chief's pay draws criticism
With attention focused on town department budgets at Tisbury's annual town meeting last week, fire Chief John Schilling took the opportunity to provide voters with an extensive explanation of his department's fiscal 2010 (FY10) budget.
"It's come to my attention through articles or letters to the editor in the paper and letters to various town officials that there are some questions from the members of the community regarding the budget of the fire department, and specifically, the line item for the stipends payable to the fire department," Chief Schilling said. "But the real questions aren't related to the firefighters and their stipends, they're related to the fire chief's stipend."
Although the fire department's FY10 budget is level-funded with FY09's, Mr. Schilling said the issue of his pay increase dates back to the FY09 budget, when his pay was increased to $52,806 a year from $17,250 in FY08. The town considers the position part-time.
The Tisbury selectmen commissioned a study of the town fire department's organization, staffing, operations, and management, following a request by Chief Schilling in January 2007, for an article on the annual town meeting warrant to establish the fire chief's job as a full-time, salaried position.
Mr. Schilling said that in addition to being on call six days a week, the fire chief's job demands extensive record keeping and performing an increasing number of federal- and state-mandated inspections.
The feasibility study by consultant Charles D. Hale of Resource Management Associates recommended that the selectmen consider moving the town to a full-time chief. The selectmen agreed to place an article on the April 2007 annual town meeting warrant to fund the position with $35,305, in addition to the chief's then salary of $17,500.
Although town meeting approved the article, funding was tied to a Proposition 2.5 override, which failed. Mr. Schilling said he and the two assistant fire chiefs subsequently met with the selectmen to agree on a financial and competency plan for employees, to address the department's needs, as well as shift coverage and allow time off for the chief.
While addressing those issues, the department also instituted new policies for department membership criteria, attendance, job descriptions and qualifications, training incentives and goals, along with stipends based on rank, Mr. Schilling said.
"When we redid the stipend plan, the fire chief received a raise in the stipend plan to $52,806 a year," Chief Schilling explained at town meeting. "Now, we did not create a new position - we did not create a full-time, salaried employee position for the town of Tisbury."
The fire chief is on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 316 days a year, Chief Schilling said, and the position has no benefits associated with it and no sick time, personal time, or vacation time.