Pay parity policy to boost budgets

MOUNT DESERT — The town’s pay parity policy means that a few town employees will see rather healthy salary hikes next year.

A policy adopted by the Board of Selectmen last June requires the town manager each year to compare the salaries of town employees to those in similar positions in towns along the Maine coast that have some of the same characteristics as Mount Desert.

“The goal of the town is to have its pay scale be at least 95 percent of the arithmetic mean of the salaries for the coastal communities selected for the … analysis,” the policy states. “The town’s salary scale for any position that is identified as being less than 95 percent … shall be adjusted to bring it to the 95 percent level.”

After 15 years of “successful service” to the town, an employee’s salary is to be adjusted to 100 percent of the mean.

Town Manager Durlin Lunt said that, up to now, the town’s pay scale has been “very random and arbitrary.”

“I hired an HR [human resources] professional to take a look at the salaries because they hadn’t been reviewed by a professional for over 10 years, and they really should be.”

Lunt said the selectmen agreed that Mount Desert employees who are “doing work of similar responsibility and have similar credentials should be on the same pay level” and that those salaries also should be in keeping with the pay for similar positions in the “peer communities.”

Towns selected for Mount Desert’s salary comparison, according to the policy, should “offer similar services to their residents, have a year around and seasonal population and include the service industry, tourism and the boating industry as significant contributors to the livelihoods of town residents.”

Lunt said the communities that were used for the salary comparison were Bar Harbor, Bath, Belfast, Boothbay Harbor, Bucksport, Camden, Castine, Ellsworth, Harpswell, Kennebunkport, Rockland, Searsport, Southwest Harbor and Wiscasset.

Lunt said the analysis found that the salaries of most Mount Desert employees are in line with those for similar positions in the other towns. But a few are currently less than 95 percent of the mean. As a result, employees in those positions will see their salaries go up more than the cost-of-living raises that town employees typically receive.

Fire budget

For example, the budget recommended by Lunt and Fire Chief Mike Bender calls for the fire lieutenant’s salary to go from $51,312 this year to $59,574, an increase of 16.1 percent.

The salary for each of the two full-time firefighter positions will increase from $41,950 to $52,443, a 25 percent jump.

Bender’s salary will increase 3.4 percent to $72,566.

Health insurance costs for fire personnel are expected to go up 32.5 percent to $71,441. The town’s contribution to the Maine Public Employees Retirement System (MPERS) for participating Fire Department employees will increase 17.4 percent to $23,941.

The total proposed Fire Department budget for next year is up 14.9 percent to $595,896.

Police chief’s salary

The Police Department’s proposed budget for next year includes a salary increase for Chief Jim Willis of 13.2 percent to $83,354. But that is only on paper; it is what his salary would be if he were the police chief only for Mount Desert. But he also serves in that capacity for Bar Harbor.

As part of the chief-sharing agreement between the two towns, which was renewed last month, Willis’s total salary for the 2018 calendar year is $96,445, a 3 percent increase over last year. Bar Harbor reimburses Mount Desert for 60 percent of the chief’s salary and benefits.

Willis has served as police chief for both towns since November 2013. His 2014 salary was $108,400, which was based on the idea that he was leading two completely separate police departments.

But as part of the revised chief-sharing agreement for 2015, his salary was reduced to $90,000.

“We wanted to bring that cost into line with what it would be for a chief with that many officers, with a [single] police department of that size,” Lunt said at the time.

The chief-sharing agreement does not constitute a merging of the two towns’ police departments. But since it was first signed five years ago, the two departments’ policies and procedures have been made uniform, and many operational functions have been consolidated.

Overall, the proposed budget for the Mount Desert Police Department for next year is up 7.29 percent to $851,747.

The town’s contribution to MPERS for police personnel is expected to go up by 43.7 percent to $24,571 next year. The budget anticipates that the deferred compensation retirement plan for participating police personnel will cost the town $16,869, a 36.4 percent increase.

Police accreditation

Willis told the selectmen Jan. 2 that the only new item in next year’s Police Department budget is for participation in a new accreditation program being offered by the Maine Chiefs of Police Association.

“It’s to make sure we’re doing things as professionally as possible and according to the best standards,” he said.

It will cost the Police Department $500 a year to take part in the program and between $1,000 and $1,500 for the necessary software.

“All total, we’re at a couple thousand dollars to really enhance your liability protection,” Willis told the selectmen.

Public Works Director Tony Smith is to present his department’s 2018-2019 budget recommendations to the selectmen at their Jan. 16 meeting.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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