February 24

Oakland manager proposes pay hike for some town employees

Eight town officials, including the police chief and head librarian, could get raises that put them more in line with same-sized towns.

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Oakland’s town manager has suggested more than $55,000 in salary and benefit increases for a group of eight town employees, saying they don’t get paid enough as those performing similar work in other communities.

click image to enlarge

DEPARTMENT HEAD RAISES: Oakland police officer Todd Burbank, left, speaks with Chief Mike Tracy, right, as Capt. Rick Stubbert listens at the department last year. Pay for the positions of Tracy and Stubbert and six others town positions could increase if a proposed budget passes that includes increases in salaries equal to towns of similar sizes.

Staff file photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

DEPARTMENT HEAD RAISES: Oakland Transfer Station Manager John Thomas beside flower gardens he planted at the Oakland Transfer Station. Thomas’ position is one of eight in town that could see a pay raise if a proposed budget is passed that includes wage increases for the employees that are currently paid at levels below other towns of similar size.

Staff file photo by David Leaming

Oakland employee pay hike: By the numbers

A proposal by Oakland Town Manager Peter Nielsen would give eight of the town’s top employees significant raises. Proponents say the raises are long overdue and would bring the salaries for those positions up to 92 percent of the average salary for the equivalent positions at comparable towns across the state.


Head Librarian Sarah Roy is paid $18.93 an hour. She would get the biggest increase, $9.46 an hour, to $28.39. The statewide average for that position is $30.86 per hour.


Assistant librarian Lisa Stevens who makes $11.05, would get a $4.95 increase to $16 per hour. The state average is $17.39.


Public Works Director Jeffrey Hally makes $25.11 an hour; he would get an increase of $4.25 an hour, to $29.36. The state average is $31.91.


Highway foreman Roland Cote makes $18.25 per hour; he would receive an increase of $2.52, to $20.77. The state average is $22.58.


Transfer station manager Johnny Thomas makes $15.55, and would get an increase of $1.88, to $17.43 per hour. The state average is $18.95.


Fire Chief Dave Coughlin makes $25.87, and would get an increase of $2.34, to $28.21. The state average is $30.66.


Police Chief Mike Tracy makes $29.85 per hour, and would get an increase of $1.47, to $31.32. The state average is $34.04.


Police Captain Rick Stubbert makes $24.77 per hour and would get an increase of $1.97, to $26.74. The state average is $29.06.

— Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

One of the employees, Librarian Sarah Roy, would get a $12,792 raise, which is a 38.66 percent increase on her yearly salary.

If that sounds like a lot, Town Manager Peter Nielsen said, it’s because Roy and a handful of other employees are dramatically underpaid and have been for years.

Under the proposal, the heads of the police, fire and public works departments, as well as the heads of the transfer station and the town library, would all get significant salary bumps, mostly between $3,000 and $6,000 per year.

The proposal will be discussed as part of broader municipal budget package at a joint meeting of the Town Council and the town’s budget committee next Monday. Some version of the entire budget is scheduled to be voted on by the council on Wednesday, March 5. A budget will go before voters at the annual Town Meeting on May 6.

Even if the proposals are approved, those workers would still make less than the state average for those positions at comparable towns, Nielsen said.

‘Taxpayers’ pockets’

One person who has not warmed to the idea is Town Council Chairman Mike Perkins.

“I’m not running hot on it,” Perkins said. “I realize there’s a state average and that they’re way below it. But at the same time, there’s affordability. We also have to be very aware that our taxpayers are paying for this.”

Arguments about rate of pay of town employees are a routine part of municipal politics. On one side of the debate are the employees themselves, who often feel they are going above and beyond the job requirements, only to be taken advantage of when it comes to wages and benefits. On the other side are taxpayers who see every employee increase in terms of how much money it takes out of their pockets.

The impact of the $55,000 in employee raises would be about 9.3 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value, or a little more than $9 per $100,000 of assessed property value.

“A low wage is great if you’re the person paying it,” Nielsen said. “If you’re receiving it, it’s not.”

Still, he said, now is the right time to broach the topic. “I’m trying to stick my neck out here,” he said. “I’m doing it because I believe it’s the right thing to do.”

In this case, the argument in favor of a wage hike is based on a set of salary comparison figures released by the Maine Municipal Association. The numbers show that, when compared to their peers at a set of 35 towns with comparable populations, many of Oakland’s employees are underpaid.

Nielsen said a couple employees approached him seeking increases. He asked them to instead wait while he came up with a more comprehensive wage adjustment plan.

Group of eight

The group of eight employees were chosen because they are department leaders who are the worst off compared to statewide averages.

“Some were much more out of whack than others,” Nielsen said.

If the wage hikes are approved, those employees would receive salary increases bringing them up to 92 percent of the state average.

Currently, they make far less.

For example, Roy makes $18.93 an hour working at the town library. The average state pay for head librarians at comparably sized towns is $30.86. Nielsen’s proposal would increase Roy’s pay to $28.39, or 92 percent of the state average.

(Continued on page 2)

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