Chief’s request for raise prompts fiery exchange

Chilmark begins budget talks with some tension.

Chilmark selectmen are looking to work out a contract with Fire Chief David Norton. — Rich Saltzberg

Tensions rose during Tuesday’s board of selectmen meeting in Chilmark, with Fire Chief David Norton asking for a raise and a department lieutenant leaving the room upset.

Due to frequent alarm calls, being responsible for two stations, five vehicles, 20 volunteers, three specialty vehicles, and their upkeep and service, Chief Norton said his job goes far beyond the 20 hours a week that is budgeted for his position: “This is not a part-time job anymore; this is not a volunteer job. I’m getting $37,000 a year for full-time work with part-time pay.” Norton said he’s putting in 52 hours per week. “It’s kind of ridiculous that a parking attendant makes more per hour than I do,” he told the board.

Selectman Jim Malkin questioned the request for $62,000 per year.

“We absolutely appreciate what you do,” he said. “I don’t understand where this number came from.”

The $62,000 is based on job duties and comparison to other town jobs, Norton said.

Selectmen said there is a process to deciding wages for town employees, and Chief Norton could not create a number on his own.

“You guys have given him nothing,” Fire Lt. Jeremy Bradshaw said. “You have not been on the chief’s side for years.”

Malkin disagreed. “I have never not been on the chief’s side, and I have never been asked, as a selectmen, about his compensation,” he said.

Bradshaw’s remarks were not directed at Malkin, but rather at the committee as failing to support the chief. “We can’t get money from the town to get stuff that we need,” he said, referring to a utility rescue vehicle that was purchased with funds raised by the fire department.

“He gets paid like a crossing guard at a high school,” Bradshaw said. “You guys pay him like he’s a part-time terrible employee. He is the chief of your fire department.”

Bradshaw left the room, commenting on how “ridiculous” and “irritating” it was.

The value of Chief Norton to the town was lauded, but the committee explained a process for a pay increase is required. Selectman Warren Doty recommended a subcommittee be formed in the next few days to evaluate other jobs in the town, and come up with a suitable number for Norton. Finance advisory committee members Vicki Divoll, Bruce Golden, Malkin, and Norton will review the request.

Things didn’t get much better in the board’s talks with Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden, who is seeking financial support for the emergency communications center. Sheriff Ogden has been visiting Island towns for support for the system that is in “decay.”

“If we can’t find a way to maintain this system, it will fail,” he said.

Sheriff Ogden said if the town did not want to support the center, then Chilmark and would have to purchase all-new equipment and updates to be able to respond to emergencies.

“I’m giving you a deal,” Sheriff Ogden said.
“I would suggest perhaps if your attitude was a little more cooperative rather than …” Robert Hannemann, a member of the finance and advisory committee, said, his comment interrupted.

“I have been cooperative,” Sheriff Ogden said.

“Just that response was not cooperative,” Hannemann said.

Divoll called Sheriff Ogden’s attitude “belligerent.”

After the meeting was brought back to order, selectmen expressed sympathy with the sheriff, saying there was frustration on both sides.

“I’m not here to be adversarial. I’m holding on to the system. It’s broken and needs to be fixed,” Ogden said. “The regional communications center is not broken … it’s the system outside the building, and that needs to be fixed.”

New fire station discussed
Chilmark selectmen also discussed the conceptual design and site study for a new fire station and ambulance facility.

The facility would be a joint venture between the Chilmark fire department and emergency services. Norton said he was satisfied with having the fire department and EMS services included in the same building. “In my opinion I could go either way with it,” he said, “I don’t have a problem with it.”

The selectmen agreed a building with both emergency services would best serve the town. Two building plans designed by architect Dennis Ross of Pacheco Ross Architects, a company specializing in emergency response facilities, were drawn over an existing map of the area, detailing the two options for design.

The first option for the new firehouse is minimal, requiring for demolition of the current firehouse, according to a report from Ross. This would require relocation of fire department materials and services for roughly 12 months of construction.

The second option would have a new firehouse built on the existing Town Hall parking area. This design would allow for the current firehouse to stay in place while construction commences, but would limit parking for town hall. Construction would also take roughly 12 months.

The selectmen did not vote on a location to build the new firehouse, but voted unanimously to hire Ross to complete a study and have exact designs to present to the selectmen. The study will cost close to $20,000.