BEACON FALLS — A disparity in pay between clerks for town meetings has ruffled a few feathers in Town Hall.
In a letter, the Economic Development Commission informed the Board of Selectmen that they planned to raise the hourly rate for their clerk from $22.50 to $25.
Other meeting clerks make $15 to $17 an hour, according to officials.
“I think the inequity in all the clerks’ pay is negligent, and especially with the whole town struggling with its budget. You have employees on furlough … and you have the EDC Commission asking for a 10 percent raise for their clerk,” said Laura Classey, who recused herself from clerking the selectmen’s meeting Oct. 17 to make a comment.
Currently, each board has the right to set their clerk’s pay, as long as it’s within their budget.
“Once a line item was put there, that group or board has the right to spend that money as they wish,” Selectman Dominick Sorrentino said.
The selectmen said a lawyer at a Connecticut Council of Municipalities convention told them once the town votes on a budget, the selectmen can’t dictate how each board spends it.
“The way our structure is, there’s not much we can do about it,” Sorrentino said.
Accordingly, the selectmen sent a memo to the various boards and commissions advising them to refer to previous guidelines, but allowing them to set their clerks’ pay rate as long as it was within their budget for the year.
“The reason (we gave the raise) was she hasn’t had a raise in about five years. And based on the quality of her work we felt she deserves an increase and it’s within our budget,” said Anthony San Angelo, chair of the Economic Development Commission.
During those years, other town employees were getting a three percent raise per year, he said. San Angelo said the commission voted unanimously on the raise in executive session.
He said the commission was under the impression that other clerks in town were making about $22 an hour.
“We don’t know what the other clerks are being paid. … You find an administrative assistant that will work for under $20 an hour and I’ll hire her,” San Angelo said.
The commission’s clerk attends meetings, types up the minutes, and follows up with people the commission works with, both for business and the state, San Angelo said. The clerk also looks for grants the commission could use to improve the town, he said.
“Do to the fact that the commission is all volunteers and we all have other jobs, she’s providing a valuable service to the commission,” San Angelo said.
According to minutes from the Board of Finance meeting Oct. 11, trained stenographers in Connecticut make $23 an hour.
In surrounding towns like Prospect and Bethany, meeting clerks are town employees paid a set salary per year or per meeting. Some employees work clerk meetings in exchange for compensation time. The amount each clerk makes depends on how many meetings there are and how involved the work is before and after the meeting.
Oxford has the model closest to that of Beacon Falls. In Oxford, each board or commission determines its clerk’s pay, which ranges from $10.56 to $14 an hour, according to Oxford town officials.
Beacon Falls hires independent contractors to clerk its meetings. The town is paying $20,000 a year for all the clerks, according to Tax Collector Millie Jurzynski.
“These are 1099 individuals. They’re no different than summer staff. They work for the town of Beacon Falls. They do not work for the individual boards and commissions,” said Parks and Recreation Commissioner Joe Rodorigo during the Oct. 17 selectmen meeting.
Rodorigo said the clerk’s pay was never intended to pay their bills. He said commissions can choose who they want to clerk their meetings, but should not set their salaries.
Rodorigo suggested creating a single line item for all the clerks pay, rather than budget the money under each board and commission.
He urged the Board of Selectmen to take a stance on the issue.
“A decision has to be made. A stance has to be taken,” Classey said, in agreement with Rodorigo.
All three selectman agreed that the pay disparity was unfair, but they didn’t agree on what to do about it.
“I believe the Board of Selectman should be setting the salary for the clerks. … I don’t care how much money’s in their line item. Let them take us to court if they want to take us to court. I don’t care,” Krenesky said.
“Pandora’s Box is open and this is going to turn into not a very friendly discussion in my opinion.”
Cable said opening the town up to lawsuits is not worth the expense. When the selectmen previously tried to set pay guidelines, they were chastised by some commissioners, she said.
“I’m not going to go to each chairman. They did what we asked them to do,” she said.
Come budget time, Cable said the boards need to take another look at the way they pay clerks.
“I would suggest that the Board of Finance look at and see what we can afford down the road,” Cable said.