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North Stonington — A new nine-member union of Town Hall employees will receive its final approval signatures this week after the Board of Selectmen voted to ratify a bargaining agreement Tuesday night.
The union — under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — will be the first for town hall employees since a small clerical union disbanded sometime in the 1990s. Negotiations began in September and wrapped up just before Christmas.
Though the Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to ratify the agreement, Selectman Bob Testa took issue with the additional appropriation of $26,342 requested with it, which funds slight raises for 35 town employees and includes increased costs for health insurance and pensions.
The 11 members of the highway department union received a 2 percent raise for the full fiscal year retroactively along with other non-union employees. The new union received the same raise but for only half the year, as the contract was not settled until December.
Presenting taxpayers with a budget that did not include this amount was misleading, Testa said.
“Passing things after the fact has got to stop,” he said.
First Selectman Nicholas Mullane said that a “micromanaged” budget leaves no room for necessary extra expenditures and that the appropriation request was made according to Board of Finance policy that been followed “for years.”
Testa conceded this point but still called the Board of Finance an “enabler” by supposedly not disclosing the true cost of the town’s operations during the budget approval process.
Selectman Mark Donahue said that, despite the technicalities Testa criticized that allow such spending, he is simply looking to provide fair compensation to the town’s employees.
Mullane pointed out that the town routinely underspends, averaging an annual “giveback” of anywhere from $100,000 to $175,000 — far more than the proposed appropriation.
Only Testa opposed the motion to approve the appropriation request. The Board of Finance approved it at its meeting Wednesday night.
Mullane said he and the Board of Finance told taxpayers at the public hearing for this year’s budget that it did not account for any wage adjustments because negotiations on both the new union’s contract and the renewal of highway department employees’ three-year contract would wrap up well after the start of the fiscal year.
Raises for non-union employees were delayed because those decisions could have interfered with negotiations, Mullane said.
Any additional appropriation of more than $20,000 must be presented at a town meeting for taxpayer approval. But this case, though the sum was greater, was comprised of 23 separate line items in the budget.
“There wasn’t anything devious about it,” he said.