At least for now Bristol taxpayers were saved a significant property tax increase while the town works to correct the flaws in the recent revaluation completed by Clipboard, Inc. Instead, a minimal increase of around 36 cents per thousand was approved by the Town Council on Thursday, June 5.
The total budget of $48,816,228 represents an approximate two-percent increase over the current budget.
At last Thursday’s public hearing on the budget, salary increases for non-union town employees, particularly those who work at Rogers Free Library, drew the most discussion. Nearly 50 people crowded into the Burnside Building urging the Town Council to approve raises for library staff, some of whom hold Master’s degrees and are paid less than their counterparts in other towns — less than $40,000 a year.
“It may be that the Town Council feels that the town can’t afford to pay a living wage. We can’t afford to lose these valuable, highly skilled people,” said Bristol resident Deirdre Robinson. “Bring them to a living wage.”
Some who came to support the library staff focused on the disparity between union employees who have raises built into their contracts, versus non-union staff who are at the mercy of the council to administer salary increases.
Council Chairwoman Mary Parella said that it’s not uncommon for non-union people to not get raises when their unionized counterparts do. And although she has been in favor of giving raises to the library staff, she also recognizes that non-union staff in other departments are also deserving.
“If raises get discussed for one department, it gets discussed for everyone,” she said. “This year happens to be a difficult year.”
Council Vice Chairman Halsey Herreshoff agreed. “The difficulty we have is that we not only represent the library employees, but we represent all of the town employees. There needs to be some level of parity,” he said.
While none of the Town Council members disagreed that the staff was deserving of salary increases, how much they could approve was up for debate.
Some residents who spoke in favor of raises argued that certain staff members hold Master’s degrees. But, countered the council, if that’s part of the job requirement, the employees are aware of the qualifications and the salary when they took the job.
“You can’t just apply a number,” said Councilman Ed Stuart. “You apply a raise to the job, not to the fact that the person has a Master’s degree.”
After much discussion, the council approved raises of one and one-half percent to all non-union town employees, while giving six library staff members increases of between 3.5 and 4 percent increases.
“The power of the public was quite evident,” said Joan Prescott, executive director of the Rogers Free Library. “We had a very grateful public.”
Despite the difficulties in drafting the budget due to the revaluation issues, Town Administrator Tony Teixeira said he is satisfied with the outcome, at least for now.
“The taxpayers didn’t get hit with a $2 increase as was proposed,” he said. “We’re still responsible for the corrected revaluation. It’s just that we have a full year to review it. We’re still on the hook.”
The legislation submitted that would grant Bristol an extension of the revaluation came out of committee at the State House and is expected to be voted on the House floor next Tuesday.
Another bill that would extend the revaluation period from every three years to every five years did not come out of committee and will likely be held for further study.