How Oak Bluffs pay compares
A recently completed study of salaries and benefits paid to Oak Bluffs town employees may lead to changes in the town's personnel pay structure, following years of controversy over personal service contracts and bonuses.
The report concludes that salaries for 35 of the 53 Oak Bluffs town jobs, studied and compared with similar positions in other towns, pay salaries close to the average compensation paid elsewhere.
The survey, done by Municipal Resources Inc. of Meredith, N. H., compares the salary structure in Oak Bluffs to such structures in other, similar towns. It is intended to give town officials a framework in which to decide salaries that will attract and retain qualified workers.
"Particularly when you're going into negotiations, we wanted to have some guidelines," said personnel board member John Lolley. Employee salaries have been hot political issues in Oak Bluffs.
Town officials will draft a warrant article for the annual town meeting offering a plan to implement the survey's recommendations.
Municipalities may hire employees using either a contract negotiated with a bargaining unit or a personal services contract. The latter allows towns to employ people independent of the terms of a union contract.
The issue of personal service contracts came to a head during the tenure of former town administrator Casey Sharpe. Attorneys for the town advised selectmen that five of the 15 personal service contracts at that time were "unauthorized," because they had not been specifically approved by vote of the selectmen. In addition, town health insurance contributions, larger in these contracts than in labor agreements with other town workers, must be made the same for all town employees.
Last spring the selectmen, acting on recommendations from town counsel, voted unanimously to end all of the personal service contracts now held by town employees.
The selectmen agreed to ask the personnel board to recommend which town employees should have personal service contracts and review contract language for consistency, including any fringe benefits included as part of the contracts.
Currently, no employees are working under personal services contracts, according to town administrator Michael Dutton. But selectmen have authorized two personal services contracts, one for him as town administrator, and another for the police chief. Those contracts are currently being negotiated. "Everybody else falls under the personnel board, or union contracts," said Mr. Dutton.
Sixteen towns, considered similar in the size of the work force, budget, service programs, and general labor market, were surveyed for the compensation and classification study. Island towns chosen for the comparison were Edgartown, Tisbury, and West Tisbury. The other Massachusetts towns included in the survey were Bourne, Chatham, Eastham, Easton, Falmouth, Harwich, Mashpee, Nantucket, Provincetown, Sandwich, Truro, Westford, and Yarmouth.
Apart from the 35 town jobs that were paid about the same as their counterparts in other communities, the report found four positions in Oak Bluffs were compensated above average rates. The consultants recommended no action be taken to reduce those salaries.
Eight Oak Bluffs positions were well below the average of pay elsewhere, and the report recommends the town review those positions for immediate action. Ten positions were moderately below the average; the report recommends they be reviewed for possible action.
"We'll make every effort this year, and over the next year or two," said Mr. Dutton, "to get those people paid appropriately."
The study concludes that the benefits and administrative practices of the town are on par or slightly better than other surveyed communities. Mr. Lolley said the last study of this kind was completed seven years ago.
"For as little information as we had, without the benefit of all these studies, we did pretty well," said Mr. Lolley. "Ours weren't that out of whack. As far as the benefits package, the town employees do very well."
On the basis of the report, selectmen asked voters to take immediate action on two positions, the town accountant and the town information technology manager, who were paid far less than comparable positions in other towns.
The information technology manager is being paid $26 per hour. The average rate for similar jobs in the other towns surveyed is $34.13. The town accountant is paid $23.57 per hour, compared to an average of $30.45 for similar work in other towns.
At a special town meeting on Dec. 11, voters unanimously approved salary increases for the two positions, effective Jan. 1.
According to the survey, other discrepancies in pay rates are apparent. For example, the survey shows the Oak Bluffs town administrator is paid far below his counterparts. The current contracted rate is $43.27 per hour, 24 percent less than the average of $56.93 in the other towns surveyed.
The specifics of the situation highlight how statistics can be somewhat misleading. The salaries reported by other towns represent executives with varying levels of experience, and tenure in their jobs. Town manager Michael Dutton is in the first year of his tenure, so it may be reasonable that his current salary would fall below the average.
The town manager is paid under a personal services contract, and that contract is currently being renegotiated.
The salary rate of town police personnel also shows significant discrepancies, on both sides of the averages reported in the survey.
The police chief is compensated at a rate of 13 percent, or $6.16 per hour, less than the average of other police chiefs surveyed. The rank of lieutenant compares very closely with other towns, but sergeants and patrolmen are compensated substantially higher. Oak Bluffs sergeants earn 15 percent, or $5.58, more per hour than the same rank in other towns, while patrolmen earn 14 percent, or $3.81, more.
Also ranking higher than other towns was the salary of the highway superintendent, at $39.68 per hour. The average for the other towns surveyed was $34.43.
The survey did not offer comparisons for the salary of the wastewater treatment facility manager. Joe Alosso, who holds the position, is paid $44.23 per hour. But, according to the survey, there is not enough data to accurately compare his compensation to that of his counterparts in other towns.