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    Friday, March 01, 2024

    Preston residents approve 10% raise for first selectwoman position

    Preston ― Residents on Thursday overwhelmingly agreed to raise the first selectwoman’s salary by 10%, or $8,706.

    The increase will take effect immediately for First Selectwoman Sandra Allyn-Gauthier.

    The raise boosts the salary to $95,763. The town recently commissioned a competitive salary study for all town positions, and Finance Director Cindy Varricchio told the more than 50 residents in attendance at Thursday’s town meeting that even with the increase, Preston’s top elected official will be below the recommended minimum pay of $122,000.

    Selectman Jerry Grabarek said he and Selectman Kenneth Zachem jointly requested the 10% increase last March, but the Board of Finance did not take up the matter during budget season.

    They argued the job has evolved into a multifaceted position, requiring the town’s top elected official to be a CEO, grant writer, human resources director and manager of emergencies, such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

    After the budget process, and when no Republican challenger came forward to run against Democrat Allyn-Gauthier in this year’s election, Grabarek and Zachem proposed the raise again as a separate matter. Republicans in town ended up cross-endorsing Allyn-Gauthier for re-election.

    Zachem said the first selectwoman’s salary increase “is 10% on a low-end salary” for the position.

    Residents who spoke expressed strong support for the raise and for the job being done by Allyn-Gauthier. But resident Andy Depta unsuccessfully failed to postpone the vote on the first selectwoman’s salary increase until the 2024 budget process.

    Resident Denise Beale said the matter is urgent now, as Allyn-Gauthier is working extra hours now and need to be compensated for their work. Residents applauded the overwhelming vote in favor of the raises.

    Speakers also strongly supported the proposed $383 raise for Town Clerk/Tax Collector Jill Keith, one person calling that small amount, “an embarrassment.” The increase brings the position’s salary to the mid-range in the competitive salary study, Allyn-Gauthier said.

    Varricchio said the entire municipal salary comparison study will be posted on the town’s website at www.preston-ct.org next week.

    Residents on Thursday also overwhelmingly approved several spending proposals for the town and school system using leftover money already bonded for past projects. All the purchases already are in the town’s capital improvements plan, Allyn-Gauthier said.

    On the town side, $377,318 from past bonds will be used on seven projects, such as $110,000 for fire department compressors, $72,000 for a senior center van and $55,000 for a Town Hall generator.

    On the school side, the town will use $643,932 for four items including $225,000 for a new telephone system, $120,000 for cybersecurity and technology upgrades, $150,000 for security cameras and $148,932 to replace a 50-year-old elevator at Preston Plains Middle School.

    Superintendent Roy Seitsinger said the middle school elevator is safe, but is so old, the school district could not get parts if it breaks down.

    Residents voted unanimously to reappoint Frank Ennis to the Preston Redevelopment Agency and approved a resolution to discontinue a portion of Fort Point Road off Route 12 from the point just past the three cemeteries to a point just short of the Providence & Worcester freight rail tracks near the Thames Riverbank. Access to the cemeteries would not be hindered by the move, Allyn-Gauthier said.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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