GROTON -- Officials remain conflicted over a budget item that would see an increase in work hours for one of two assistants in the town clerk's office from 19 hours per week to 20.
The question had been brought up and discussed a number of times since Town Manager Mark Haddad requested it as part of a $236,000 increase in the previously approved operating budget for fiscal 2014. It was raised again Monday when selectmen were called upon to take positions on 23 articles listed on the warrant for fall Town Meeting, scheduled for Oct. 21.
The spending measure, as presented by Haddad, includes a number of salary increases for various part-time town employees, with the most contentious being that of an assistant in the town clerk's office.
Haddad has argued that the situation in the town clerk's office is not fair with one part-timer having 20 hours and all the benefits that go with them and the other has 19 hours, just below the threshold when benefits kick in.
The 19-hour position was created years ago by selectmen, specifically to get more help in the town clerk's office while keeping costs down for taxpayers.
The issue has raised questions by town officials including the Finance Committee as well as selectmen, who voted 3-2 Monday to recommend the spending measure at Town Meeting.
Those who held out, Jack Petropoulos and Joshua Degen, cited confusion about how voters could tackle the motion to recommend the budget increase while possibly wanting to amend portions of it, such as the town clerk assistant's salary and a similar request by the Library Trustees for a young-adult librarian.
After the vote to recommend the article and a run-through of the rest of the warrant, the issue was reopened by resident Rule Loving who asked that more information on the town clerk's assistant be made available at Town Meeting so voters can make a more informed decision.
For instance, Loving asked that the total cost of increasing the position's hours by one a week be given including insurance, retirement, sick pay and vacation time.
Loving also suggested that a comparison be made between public and private practices involving a 15- and 30-hour work weeks versus 40 hours.
Finally, Loving suggested a task force be appointed to study those issues and others involved with increasing the hours of part-time employees.
Loving was followed by Patrice Garvin, Haddad's administrative secretary, who reminded selectmen that they were not just talking about a position but a person. Garvin cautioned the board on the effects on employee morale should they vote not to support the request.
Garvin said that as it is, many town employees work many hours beyond those they are paid for and never complain.
Those who voted not to recommend the article maintained their positions.
"I don't like seeing things done mid-stream," said Degen.
Degen suggested the issue remain as is over fiscal 2014 while it is thoroughly examined so that "quantifiable information" can be provided when the question is revisited in the next budget cycle.
Also considered Monday was a warrant article proposed by the Planning Board that would amend the town's bylaw dealing with the Historic Districts Commission.
As explained by board chairman John Giger, the change is needed to address "overlapping jurisdictions" between the Planning Board and the HDC, a conflict highlighted by the new Center Fire Station project and the Boynton Meadows subdivision on Main Street.
In the case of the latter, the problem was that the regulations of a downtown overlay district conflict with those of the downtown historic district. It ended up forcing developers to have their architectural design plans reviewed by two different entities with sometimes conflicting agendas.
To ease the process and reduce the instances of conflict, representatives of the two boards met and came up with a plan that would see the creation of an Architectural Design Review Committee made up of members of both groups and a landscape consultant.
The architectural review process (for projects within any of the town's three historic districts), said Giger, would begin with the HDC, which would issue a certificate of appropriateness. From there, the design plan would move on to the ADRC, which was envisioned as accepting the work of the HDC with little comment before approving the architectural plans ostensibly in the name of the Planning Board and the HDC.
But as Degen pointed out, the ADRC would include limited membership by the Planning Board with most of its members not participating. What would stop them from raising objections and asking all the same questions over again when the ADRC's recommendation was passed along to them, Degen asked.
Giger acknowledged that was a weakness of the plan.
"It's not without risk," said Giger of the amendment.