Town officials are proposing a 5.1 percent increase for the municipal budget, and some of that increase is tied to unexpected raises for police officers, firefighters, dispatchers and DPW …
Town officials are proposing a 5.1 percent increase for the municipal budget, and some of that increase is tied to unexpected raises for police officers, firefighters, dispatchers and DPW workers.
Local unions and previous Barrington Town Manager Jim Cunha signed labor contracts that would have carried through until June 2025, but the Town Council approved a wage re-opener a few months ago and current Town Manager Phil Hervey offered larger raises and longevity bonuses for employees in all four unions.
Hervey said the renegotiated salary increases are crucial as the town struggles to hire new, qualified employees and retain those it already has.
For the police department, a previously-approved 4 percent annual pay increase went up to 5 percent. Also, 3 percent longevity pay was offered after three years with increases up to 10 percent after 10 years. Previously, longevity pay was 6 percent of an individual’s salary after five years, 7 percent after 10 years, and 8 percent after 15 years.
Similar increases have been given to Barrington firefighters, dispatchers and employees at the department of public works.
The salary increases play a role in total budget increases for police, fire, dispatchers and DPW — the proposed budget includes an 8 percent or $220,123 increase for the fire department, a 5.5 percent or $15,628 increase for police, a 10.8 percent or $46,008 increase for dispatch/animal control, and a 7.4 percent or $216,603 increase for the department of public works.
Nearly every line item in the municipal budget calls for an increase. Only the Board of Canvassers (-19.18 percent or -$12,595), Sealer of Weights and Measures (-100 percent or -$250), and Peck Center for Adult Enrichment (-10.21 percent or -$15,121) reflect decreases in the municipal budget.
In total, the municipal operating budget proposes a 5 percent or $993,840 increase over the current $19.65 million budget.
Officials are proposing a $36,000 increase to the capital budget, and are expecting a reduction in debt service of $193,957. The manager is not proposing any new bond items.
Hervey said it is getting more difficult to fill department openings.
“Recruitment for police and fire results in much lower response rates compared to past years,” Hervey wrote in the budget memo. “Both departments have lost personnel to lateral transfers — a new challenge for departments in the state. The Barrington Police Department, it should be noted, has successfully filled openings in recent months by accepting lateral transfers for the first time in the history of the department. That said, the most severe shortages have occurred with the dispatch center, where employee turnover has resulted in two to three out of five full-time positions remaining vacant at times.”
Hervey said many other cities and towns are making an effort to increase pay or offer other financial incentives to municipal employees.
In the proposed budget, Hervey cites Newport, which offers its new hires a $5,000 sign-on bonus, and East Providence, which gives its new hires a $7,500 sign-on bonus.
Barrington Town Council President Carl Kustell fully endorses the salary and longevity increases for Barrington’s labor unions.
“I was a big driver of that,” he said during a recent interview.
Kustell said that at one time, the Barrington Police Department was down seven officers of the 27 full-time positions. The department has also found that recruiting new officers is a challenge.
“This is a national problem,” Kustell said.
“We used to be top five (in the state) in compensation. We’ve slipped.”
Barrington Human Resources Director MariAnn Oliveira completed an assessment of pay and benefits for public safety personnel, comparing Barrington to other municipalities. Some of the highlights of her assessment are included in the proposed budget document. It states that Barrington is one of the few towns that does not offer post-employment benefits other than an individual’s pension. In previous years, Barrington had extended health insurance to public safety personnel after they retired.
“Because Barrington lacks the action (fire, crime, gang units, etc.), OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits), or an accelerated career track that larger municipalities offer, the town’s best tool available is to increase salary and longevity to be able to attract and retain talent,” Hervey wrote in the proposed budget memo.
Kustell said he spoke to the Barrington Police Chief Michael Correia a few months ago about the challenges facing the department.
“When you are offering a competitive wage, you’re more likely to recruit the most qualified officers,” Kustell said. “The bottom line is we have to compete with other towns.”
Kustell said the municipal budget can accommodate the salary increases.
“We can definitely afford it,” he said.