TOWNSEND -- A recently signed contract with an 18 percent increase in the town administrator's salary was questioned by the Finance Committee on Tuesday night.
The $95,000 contract is included within the selectmen's budget for fiscal 2014.
"Basically, there were questions about the town-administrator contract," Finance Committee Chairwoman Nancy Rapoza said during a joint meeting with selectmen Tuesday. "I seem to recall even before Greg Barnes left, the salary of the town administrator was at the low end."
Barnes, the former town administrator, took a new job three years ago.
When compared with salaries of administrators in similar towns, Townsend's salary is below average, said Nick Thalheimer, selectmen chairman.
"Some portion of us considered that a little light," he added.
The role and responsibilities of the administrator were challenged.
"The town administrator is the top job, responsible for the day-to-day operation of the town," Selectman Bob Plamondon said. "I don't see any department head with more responsibility than the town administrator. He doesn't call us up. People get paid for making quality decisions."
Saying the town administrator has the top job downplays the responsibilities of the other department heads, Finance Committee member Andrea Wood said.
"That's where we are different," she said to selectmen. "He's responsible to you people. He's not over them, he's your employee."
Selectman Sue Lisio said, "He's not our secretary."
Increasing the salary to a level where it is on a par with similar positions will help the town with retention, she said.
"It's not as easy to find a town administrator as it is to find a town administrator's assistant," Sue Lisio said.
Carolyn Smart, the former assistant and member of the Finance Committee, left her position to work for the Water Department in June 2012.
"We do have to look at longevity," Smart said, but said she had some questions about other clauses in the contract.
For instance, the town administrator will receive $1,000 annually for cellphone use and routine travel in addition to travel expenses for professional development.
Town Administrator Andy Sheehan spends at least $1,000 on his cellphone plan, Thalheimer said.
The building inspector spends $400, Wood said.
The travel for professional development covers times when seminars are held in other parts of the state, Sheehan said.
If the board removes Sheehan from office for no cause, he would receive a nine-month severance package and be eligible for unemployment benefits. If he is terminated for cause, he would not receive those benefits.
The clause protects the town if Sheehan's contract is terminated before its end, Thalheimer said. The town could be sued for the remainder of the contract if the termination were not for cause.
The Finance Committee meets again Thursday. The committee did not vote on whether to support the contract.