Proposed sewer budget fails to pass selectboard vote

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FARMINGTON – The Board of Selectmen did not approve a proposed $1.18 million budget for the wastewater treatment budget, with two selectmen in favor and two opposed.

During their April 26 meeting, the select board reviewed the wastewater budget. The department requested an increase for personnel wages and benefits, totaling roughly $130,000 more than the previous year. The overall budget request was for $1,176,701, an 11.66 percent increase over the previous year.

“COVID has just driven the price up on everything, including labor,” said Farmington Wastewater Superintendent Steve Millett.

There is no change to the user rate for the upcoming year, but the Select Board needed to approve a budget before they could set the rates. Without the rates set for the year, Mavis Gensel, Accounts Manager for the department, cannot issue the bills for the last billing quarter, which would typically be sent at the end of March.

Similar to other departments in the town, the wastewater department hasn’t seen a uniform wage increase in a number of years.

Gensel said that they received a cost of living adjustment every year like other town employees, which usually went straight to paying the increased insurance prices. The COLA is designed to keep employees at the same rate of pay while considering inflation.

Selectman Joshua Bell expressed concern about increasing employee salaries in a one year jump. For him, it didn’t pass the straight-face test. Everything has a dollar value and if if you counted the COLA, benefits, sick leave, vacation leave, and other benefits that accompanied the wage in a municipality, the value of the pay and benefits is higher than what many in the private sector receive. He said that the town needs to be careful to not overburden the taxpayers and private sector.

“It’s not a job to me. It’s a career. And I take a lot of pride in what I do,” said Joe Hartigan, who works at the treatment facility. He said that he could easily get the proposed pay rate if he went to another facility, but he didn’t want to do that.

Newly elected Selectman Byron Staples said he kept hearing the wastewater department pay compared to the other town employees’ pay increases, which have not been approved by the town. He wanted to wait until after the town meeting when the town budget and pay increases would be finalized, so the board had accurate numbers to compare the wastewater budget against.

A motion was made to approve the budget as presented, but it received a tie vote with Selectmen Scott Landry and Chairman Matt Smith voting in favor and Bell and Staples opposing. Selectman Stephan Bunker was absent from the meeting. The budget will be presented again at the next meeting.

In concluding the meeting, Smith said that he is hearing ‘union’ discussed more. He hoped that the board could get through the budget process and the employee pay adjustments without getting to that point.

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