How They Made the Sausages

By S.D. Plissken | April 14, 2020

Commenters have occasionally questioned exactly why Milton’s Board of Selectmen have held so very many closed-door 91A sessions. A number of them, including even several legislators, have suggested that there is something amiss there.

Chairwoman Hutchings’ disquisition of Monday, April 6, 2020, as well as the other selectmen’s remarks that followed, revealed finally why at least some of those secret sessions were “necessary.”

The BOS has been using money from unfilled positions, which positions were authorized at the ballot – at certain amounts – to hand out raises and benefit increases, whose increased budget amounts were not authorized at the ballot. They “mine” the unauthorized amounts from the unfilled positions.

To cite the example given by Selectman Rawson, they have five positions at some rate of pay. Some one of the five leaves to follow another opportunity, perhaps a better-paying one. The selectmen are then able to “mine” that unfilled position’s authorized salary and benefit amounts to hand out unauthorized increases – in this example, increases of up to 20% – to the remaining four positions.

They won’t likely ever get “caught.” It will all be papered over when the voters approve the next budget, which will include the temporarily-unauthorized increased amounts. They can even fill the fifth position at that time and begin their “process” all over again.

Selectman Rawson: Well, when we initially gave the raises … I don’t know if these … I don’t know if Erin [Hutchings] and Matt [Morrill] were even … I know Matt wasn’t, but Erin … You might have been on the Board when we gave the DPW all those raises . were you here or not?

Chairwoman Hutchings: Uh-hum.

Rawson: Well, just out of transparency, the Public Works [DPW] gave some concessions, and that was one man. So, it’s not like … I just want to make it clear that it’s not like we were just giving out these huge raises – well, not huge, but raises at least – to keep people, good people here in Milton. You know, they gave a concession, and that was to lose a body, and, you know, when you don’t have a lot of bodies and you lose a body, you know, it’s just people have to work a little harder and, if I was an employee down there and I was going to get a raise, and I had to work a little harder, I would be on board. So, that is what happened with that. I just want to make that clear, because there was some concessions already from DPW. So, like on some of the large-ticket items … so, what are some of the large-ticket items that were being proposed this year? Do you know what some of those ticket items were, or were going to be?

Creveling: Most of ones that I am aware of were the phone systems in Town hall, but those were covered by the [State-provided] Unanticipated Revenue.

The “good people” with whom they should be concerned primarily are the taxpaying voters. What happens if those hard-pressed taxpaying voters – they are a nuisance, aren’t they? – do not approve your increased proposed budget, with its poison pill of already-granted raises? Well, the BOS can just continue to mine the vacant position for another year and catch up later. (Not to pick on the DPW. There is no reason whatsoever to think that this peculiar workaround is limited to the DPW budget and TO&E).

But what happens if the voters chose the default budget two times running? Let us imagine some alternate universe in which the voters become unhappy with the rate at which their taxes have increased. Well, now the BOS would have a problem – one that they might actually care about – as opposed to the apparently negligible problem of increasing taxes yet again. They discover suddenly that they have been skating on rather thin ice.

The Town can evidently function without these positions, except as yet another slush fund to be tapped. The ostensible reason for all of this sleight-of-hand was a bidding war in a competitive job market. Well, the bottom just dropped out of that. Pessimists are saying it will be a long time coming back, if ever it fully does.

Might it be that these unfilled positions, vacant for several years now and apparently preserved only to pay raises that lack proper budget authorization, should be removed finally from the Town table of organization?

Just in the interests of transparency, you know.

References:

Town of Milton. (2020, April 16). BOS Meeting, April 6, 2020. Retrieved from youtu.be/AseNUlSoUK8?t=2351

Author: S.D. Plissken

I thought he'd be taller.

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