AYER - The Ayer Finance Committee considered the town's next forward steps in relation to the town's compensation grid for non-unionized employees.

Committee member Brian Muldoon is the panel's designee to the quorum-depleted Personnel Board. The 5-member Personnel Board is now down to two members - Muldoon and Lisa White - following the Dec. 4 resignation of Kathleen O'Connor. The Personnel Board needs a minimum of three members present to conduct business.

Muldoon told the Finance Committee on Jan. 9 that the remaining members of the Personnel Board have worked with Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand "trying to do what we can without a quorum" to move forward a request for quotes (RFQs) from consultants who can "help us with a grid." That analysis is to include a comparison of pay rates between Ayer town officials and like-sized communities.

But Muldoon noted that selectmen Chair James Fay "wants not just the grid, but also job descriptions done." Fay referred to the review of the job's duties and responsibilities as a "desk audit."

The Oct. 22, 2012 Fall Town Meeting approved Article 7, which authorized up to $6,000 to hire an independent consultant to revise and update the town's non-union Employee Classification and Compensation Plan.

Muldoon suggested there may be a mid-fiscal year need for a reserve fund transfer (RFT) "to do the right job for not only the grid but a second piece, a desk audit." Muldoon said the compensation grid hasn't been updated since 1997.

RFT's are only to be granted on the basis that they're not otherwise budgeted, and are unexpected expenses arising during a fiscal year.

"It's unexpected," said Muldoon. "I think we have to do it. It's been way too long that people haven't looked at job descriptions and the grid...We really have to take a hard look at where we are."

Muldoon said Pontbriand was to meet with Town Accountant Lisa Gabree to advise the selectmen and the Finance Committee on the projected added expense.

"I believe Littleton did it last year. I think it was $18,000" said Muldoon. "So we'd need a bit more money to take care of that." A warrant article followed that covered any compensation increases sparked by the grid review, said Muldoon.

"Would it be permissible to offer Littleton a sum of money for the use of theirs and modify it?" pondered Finance Committee member Michael Pattenden. "If they've done the same thing, do we have to absolutely start from square 1 or can we start from square 5?"

"They still have the schools," noted Houde. "They have a municipal light and power department, so that adds a complexity to it. I wouldn't think they're close enough in their operations to do a comparison. If it were Harvard - though their schools are still integrated - but they don't have light and power."

"Let's find out what needs to be done," said Houde. "I agree it's an important piece and long overdue and something we need to look at as a town."

BRING IN THE BUSINESS OWNERS

Muldoon recalled the Dec. 4 tax classification hearing - the annual meeting where the selectmen set the annual split between the residential and the commercial, industrial and personal (CIP) tax rates. Muldoon said the room was filled with business owners seeking relief from their CIP tax rate and suggesting the town needed to better budget with the money it had.

"I think we should invite the businesses here to find out how they'd like us to cut back," said Muldoon. "They say we spend too much." Muldoon said he'd like to hear specifics. "OK, what do you not want us to do?"

"I think it may be better not to take that approach," laughed Houde. But Muldoon reasserted, "If you come to a meeting and you're upset about it, that' sonly half of it....I'm not trying to get them in here to put them in a corner. Maybe they have different ideas - I don't know."

"Most of them don't live in Ayer," said Mary Spinner, Chair of the Capital Planning Committee.

"Because they have a business here, they're involved," said Muldoon. "I feel bad that they can't use the dump and they pay a lot more in taxes."

"I don't think the dump is feasible for them," said Houde.

Still, Muldoon suggested the business owners may provide "opinions we're not thinking about - maybe they'll bring another perspective."

Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.