Wage study set for West Newbury town employees | News

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WEST NEWBURY — Employee interviews are slated to begin this month as part of a job classification and compensation study aimed at ensuring the town is offering its workers fair and competitive wages.

Conducted by The Edward J. Collins Center for Public Management, the study will provide comprehensive descriptions for each position within a stipulated scope.

Excluded from the study are union positions — because they undergo wage review every three years as part of the collective bargaining process — as well as seasonal positions, such as summer recreation program staff, and a five-hour-per-week job working at the Pipestave Recycling Center on Saturdays. Approximately 35 municipal posts will be reviewed.

Town employees whose positions are part of the study will each fill out a questionnaire and participate in phone interviews in which they will provide perspective and details about the jobs they perform for the town.

“The town seeks to evaluate not only the duties performed, but the staffing levels and hours assigned in an effort to provide services in the most efficient and effective manner, also to evaluate potential avenues for succession planning,” states a scope of service memo made part of the contract with the Collins Center executed in January.

“The project team will work to engage with staff throughout the project. Experience has demonstrated that this is an important approach for the long-term success of the change process.”

The Collins Center will classify each job using a point factor system to group positions into a classification structure, based on criteria such as supervisory responsibilities, complexity, judgment, physical requirements and work environment. Classifications are to include a recommendation on whether a position should be paid via an annual salary or on an hourly basis.

“This review may include consultation with the Town Attorney — at the town’s expense,” the contract memo states. Town bylaws, policies and regulations related to the appointing authority are also reviewed. “These are key factors in a position description as they determine how employees receive supervision,” the document states. A look at staffing levels is also part of the study.

The center will assemble a market salary survey based on municipalities in West Newbury’s labor market, then use the survey to recommend a compensation schedule. “The Town will not cut your pay,” a section of the memo with frequently asked questions states.

It’s not a performance evaluation or study to determine staffing levels. Neither is it a referendum on the individual currently holding the position or on how many hours a position should be assigned, the Center stresses. All findings will be reviewed with Angus Jennings, West Newbury’s town manager.

By June, the Select Board should receive a final report consisting of a proposed compensation schedule, a recommended implementation plan and, if necessary, any suggested changes to the staffing structure. At a minimum, the plan will detail: job descriptions; employee grades; salary ranges; and allowing for decisions about pay that are consistent with similar work done in other departments in town.

In the five years prior to hiring Jennings, the town had four finance directors and five accountants following the controversial departure of longtime Finance Director Tracy Blais.

Blais took a job in Newbury in spring 2011 after unsubstantiated allegations of unauthorized merit bonuses and salary overpayments were made against her by two of the three Select Board members at the time. She was absolved of all wrongdoing by the state’s inspector general later that year.

After Blais’s departure, the Select Board didn’t regularly adopt an annual wage range schedule to establish the minimum and maximum for positions classified at different grades levels.

“This, combined with the fact that wage changes were, for the most part, either proposed, or not, by different departments, boards, and commissions within the annual budgeting process, led to some discrepancies over the years between a job’s assigned grade, and the actual wages for that position,” Jennings said.

In addition, unlike other towns, West Newbury has not provided “step” increases over the years, with many positions only receiving cost-of-living adjustments. As a result, pay for some positions may have fallen out of step with the labor market, he noted.

“This comprehensive wage and classification study, led by the highly respected Collins Center housed at UMass Boston, will help to ensure that the town’s wage and classification system is fair and consistent across the entire organization, and competitive within our labor market,” Jennings concluded.

A Community Compact Municipal Best Practices award offered through the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, Local Services Division is partially funding the $25,000 study for the town.

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