WINCHESTER - Despite concerns raised by Select Board Chair Michael Bettencourt, the board approved three separate MOUs for the fire, police patrol and police superior unions. These will now go to the Finance Committee, Personnel Board and, eventually, Town Meeting for final approval.
During previous meetings, the board heard from Town Manager Lisa Wong about much needed increases to police and firefighter salaries, both to recruit new officers and firefighters and to retain ones already employed by the town.
Wong admitted the new contracts don’t come cheap, but said the members of both departments “have been waiting and worked really hard to make the contracts happen.”
She added how approving the documents would be a “huge show of support” and urged the board to “move forward and support the contracts.”
The Town Manager also said the board “can’t afford to not vote on the contracts.”
While other members of the board sided with the Town Manager, Bettencourt expressed concerns with the amount and how it would impact future fiscal years.
“I want to see the impact on the budget over the next few years,” he stressed. “Do we anticipate a revenue drop or losses that would make contracts tough to fund?”
The chairman said he wanted to wait until a budget meeting on Wednesday with the Budget Advisory Committee. He said that committee had some concerns. He also noted how rich the contract looked.
“I’m not saying it’s not warranted,” he added, (but) I have to see the impact in 2022.”
He felt it just wasn’t the right time to vote.
In response, Wong stated the numbers haven’t moved all that much from the first meeting on the issue and that money to cover the increases has already been set aside for FY21 ($850K out of $1.1M available).
“We already stretched a two year override to three years,” Wong argued, adding that it would be detrimental to delay voting.
The rest of the board, supporting the need to vote that night, argued the contracts only appeared rich because the town put off these increases for so long. They also noted who gets final say in the matter.
“Town Meeting has final say on the budget,” Select Board member Mariano Goluboff acknowledged. (Of course, when Town Meeting can actually vote on this or any warrant article remains somewhat up in the air, though it has been rescheduled for Monday, June 8.)
Goluboff argued this vote is only approving the “collaboration between management and police and fire.”
He added, “We’ve underpaid fire for 10 years (and) it will help us recruit and retain, (plus) it’s the fair thing to do.”
The rest of the board agreed with Goluboff’s statement with Select Board member Amy Shapiro wanting to “make a firm stand that we support police and fire.” She noted how the town, through the Finance Committee and Town Meeting, has checks and balances in place.
Select Board member Susan Verdicchio said while it’s easy to “second-guess” because “we’re living in uncertain times, we need to show our support.”
With that, the board approved all three MOUs 4-1 with Bettencourt the lone dissenter. Before the vote, the chairman said he didn’t want to get so high the town would need another operating override or have to lay off people. He added he still didn’t fully understand the impact of the numbers.