Edgartown will revisit COLAs
Four months into the 2010 fiscal year, Edgartown leaders have decided to ask voters for approximately $130,000 to provide town employees with a cost of living adjustment (COLA).
The proposal for a three-percent COLA has the support of selectmen, the financial advisory committee, and the personnel committee. The proposal would appear as an article at a special town meeting scheduled for Tuesday, October 27.
During budget discussions last January, Edgartown notified town employees that the selectmen and the finance advisory committee members would not support the personnel board's recommendation for a cost of living increase for fiscal 2010, which began on July 1 of this year.
In a letter to employees, town administrator Pam Dolby said that the town was struggling to fund operating budgets and avoid cutting positions. She cited the uncertainty of trying financial times and a decrease in state and town revenue.
Selectmen this week defended the proposed pay increase as a promise kept. When employees were notified that there would be no cost of living adjustment, town officials told them finances were too uncertain to fund the raises. But they also told town workers that once the town's financial picture was clearer, the issue of COLAs would be revisited.
In recent weeks, Ms. Dolby has reported to selectmen that revenues have met projections, and that she expects the state to certify the free cash fund, money unspent last year, at approximately $1.7 million.
Asked about their support of raises for town employees at the same time that many of the taxpayers who must fund the raises have still not recovered from the economic turmoil that has gripped the nation, all three selectmen said those taxpayers hold the final decision with their vote.
"That's why they get the ultimate say," chairman Michael Donoroma said. "They should show up at town meeting and say 'hey wait a minute.' The taxpayers could say 'do more, that's what we're paying you for.' This is good news. This is a good argument to have."
Selectman Arthur Smadbeck acknowledged that taxpayers might see the raises differently than town officials do. "That's a fair point," he said. "The taxpayers have the final say in everything. Last budget season, we had no idea what the financial picture for the town was going to be. I thought the employees demonstrated tremendous loyalty to the town."
Selectman Margaret Serpa also said voters will decide the issue at the special town meeting. In recent special town meetings, voters have objected to warrant articles related to town spending. The three most recent special town meeting warrants included relatively small expenditures, bylaw changes, and other non-monetary issues.
Ms. Serpa disagreed that special town meetings are vulnerable to special interests because they are often attended by fewer voters, compared to annual town meetings. "We've had some specials where not enough people show up for a quorum, and we've had others that were well represented," Ms. Serpa said.
At the same meeting, voters will also be asked to resolve a budget dispute stemming from Edgartown's unhappiness with the Martha's Vineyard Commission's decision to include a COLA for MVC employees in its 2010 budget.
Last spring, Edgartown voters refused to approve a transfer of $274,000 from Edgartown's free cash account to pay the MVC assessment. Edgartown was unhappy over the size of the town's MVC assessment and the commission's decision to approve an operating budget that included cost of living adjustments at a time when Edgartown was holding the line on town spending and eliminating cost of living adjustments for many town employees.
The finance advisory committee, with the support of the board of selectmen, put the regional planning agency's annual assessment on the ballot as an override question in the spring election even as they conceded that the town was legally obligated to pay it.
In the town election on April 16, the vote was 213 yes, 222 no.
Financial advisory committee chairman Donna Lowell-Bettencourt did not respond to requests for comment on the issue.