RICHMOND — With only one resident asking questions, the Town Council approved the 2018-19 budget at a public hearing Tuesday.
The town’s largest expense is its contribution to the Chariho Regional School District, which will be $19.3 million, an increase of 0.83 percent. The property tax rate will increase by 2.01 percent.
The $25 million spending plan contains few changes, but it was the one significant change, a proposed increase in town employees’ salaries, that prompted the comments.
Approximately 30 employees will be getting salary increases, which, collectively, will add $228,000 to the budget.
Town Administrator Karen Pinch and council members have agreed that the raises are necessary to prevent the high turnover the town has experienced because employees who were trained in Richmond end up leaving for higher salaries in other towns.
“We train them, and this includes police officers, people who work in the Highway Department, people who work in the town hall, who found opportunities to get more money, and yet, we trained them all,” council President Paul Michaud said. “It costs money to train all these people, and if we keep training them and losing them, that’s not good.”
Former Town Council President Henry Oppenheimer questioned the placement of the salary increases in the council contingency line item and suggested the funds be moved to the wage contingency category so they would be easier for voters to see and understand.
“I don’t have any particular problem with bringing folks up to a reasonable wage,” he said. “I have an issue with how you’re doing it and communicating it to the public.”
The council agreed to move the salary increases to the wage contingency line item. At Oppenheimer’s urging, members also agreed to reconsider the proposed longevity bonuses.
The council approved the budget, but agreed to re-examine the practice of awarding longevity increases. The Financial Town Meeting will take place on June 11.
The meeting ended with a tribute to former Richmond Police Chief Edwin Cahoon, who joined the police department in 1966, became chief in 1969 and died in 1970 following a snowmobile training accident.
Proposed by councilor Ronald Newman, the tribute was attended by members of Cahoon’s family, as well as several town and police officials who had served with him.
“I actually knew Chief Cahoon very well,” Newman said. “He was a terrific guy.”
Elwood Johnson, the current police chief, said the timing of the tribute coincided with Police Memorial Day, which is May 15.
“He died 10 years younger than I am right now,” Johnson told Cahoon’s daughters, Carol and Lynn. “That is shocking to me, and the fact that you were so young when he was taken. It was an accident. He wasn’t shot in the line of duty, but he died in the line of duty, because he died training to serve the public.”
After unveiling a plaque with a photograph of their father standing with Richmond police officers and town councilors, Cahoon’s daughters said they were touched that the town had chosen to honor their father.
“It’s been many, many years, and we think about how much the force meant to him,” Carol said. “It really meant a lot to him in what he did. For it to be recognized makes us feel very warm.”
“I thought it was marvelous,” Lynn added. The effort they put forth, the work that went into it. Incredible. I am so touched by it.”