RICHMOND — The Richmond Board of Finance, citing difficulties in retaining employees, agreed at its Monday budget workshop to consider making the town’s pay scale more competitive with other municipalities.
The problem is particularly acute in the Department of Public Works, where several employees have left for better-paying jobs in other towns. Board Chair William Degnan said the turnover had been a challenge for DPW Director Scott Barber.
“It is very frustrating for Scott,” he said. “Just when you get them to a point where they’re quite useful and they’ve got some skills, off they go.”
Town Administrator Karen Pinch reported that salaries for comparable jobs were higher in neighboring towns, with the exception of Hopkinton.
“We’ve talked about this for some time now,” she said. “We’ve always known that in Richmond, our employees are underpaid compared to their counterparts in other towns.”
Board members went through the list of positions, beginning with town planner. In Richmond, the planner’s annual base salary is $56,500. In Hopkinton, it’s $51,100, in West Greenwich, $75,000, and in Charlestown, $76,000. Pinch recommended that the planner’s salary be increased to $60,000.
The salary of the town’s former full-time building official was $34,000 (the job is being performed now by an official from West Greenwich at part-time rate of $500 per week). Pinch recommended a full-time position with a salary of $45,000. Board member Amy Kelly said the salary should be increased to $60,000.
“I am just a little bit concerned about the building official,” she told Pinch. “I don’t think for the salary that you’re proposing that you’re going to get somebody with the qualifications.”
The finance director’s position is part time and pays $52,000. Hopkinton, West Greenwich and Charlestown all have full-time finance directors. The salary in Hopkinton is $81,000, in West Greenwich it’s $66,000, and in Charlestown $92,000. Pinch said that when David Krugman, the current finance director, retires in May, the town would consider hiring a full-time finance director at between $70,000 and $80,000 per year.
The board agreed to include the pay-scale increases, which would cost $174,000, in the proposed budget. The alternative, a 3 percent across-the-board raise, would cost $69,907.
In discussing the higher salaries, board member Barry Chipman said, “The big question for me is what will be the effect on tax rates.”
It’s a sore point with many residents, but their complaints have been directed mainly at the Chariho Regional School District, which accounts for most the property tax burden.
Board member Steve Rego said he didn’t think the town’s taxpayers would support another increase.
“We had a fairly big increase last year,” he said. “I just don’t think another large increase proposal this year would fly. I heard, just wandering around town, they’re really unhappy.”
Pinch argued that employees shouldn’t have to pay the price for the town’s difficult financial position. “I feel like we can’t keep cheating our employees because Chariho keeps handing us an increase,” she said.
Kelly said, “I’m just hoping that this year, Chariho isn’t such a huge burden for us. It might be a good opportunity to try to do this.”
Board members agreed that they would have a better understanding of the feasibility of the salary proposal when they had completed their budget preparations. The Town Council would then consider the proposal during its own budget workshops.
Degnan said he believed the council would support the higher pay scale.
“I would say that they would,” he said. “I think it’s important to keep a healthy, educated and experienced job force here …. If we want to stay ahead of the curve, it’s something we’ve got to do. It’s a natural cost of doing business.”