WINDHAM — A leader of the Windham Taxpayers Coalition is criticizing selectmen’s decision to spend more than $100,000 from insurance rebates to compensate a handful of employees for accumulated time off.
“I’d rather see that money go back to reducing the tax rate,” said Bruce Breton, a former selectman who is one of the directors of the taxpayer group.
Selectmen reached the decision last week after months of looking at ways to better financially manage earned time off including vacation, personal and sick days.
“This will put an end to our runaway earned time liabilty,” Town Administrator David Sullivan told selectmen.
The board voted, 4-0, in favor of agreements effectively buying earned time owed four key employees.
Phil LoChiatto, Kathleen DiFruscia, Al Letizio Jr. and Roger Hohenberger voted in favor of the agreements.
Ross McLeod was absent and did not vote.
Sullivan acknowledged he was among the four employees.
Breton obtained details under the state’s Right to Know Law and released the buyout totals.
Sullivan will receive $17,825.
Police Capt. Mike Caron will get $26,163, Highway Agent Jack McCartney will get $21,211 and fire Chief Tom McPherson will get $51,252.
“This is a prudent use of the money we are getting back from the Local Government Center to cap our liability going forward,” LoChiatto told colleagues.
DiFruscia said she agreed with LoChiatto.
Earned time had become an issue as longtime employees cashed in large accumulations at retirement or resignation, allowing them to depart with as much as six months in pay.
That’s left town officials to decide how or whether to cover positions because of the expense.
Until recently, employees have been able to compile unlimited earned time.
Through the collective bargaining process, and now policy for nonunion employees, the town has capped earned time at 800 hours.
The agreements reached with Sullivan, Caron, McPherson and McCartney involve longtime employees who had amassed significant earned time while it was unlimited.
“We are pleased to advise that amendments have or will be implemented that, moving forward, will largely reduce both the potential financial liabilities and extended absences requiring coverage that might have come with the departure of long-time employees,” selectmen said in a press release addressing the issue.
Selectmen acknowledged in their statement that they could have used the money in other ways.
They said they concluded this was the most beneficial use.
“We unanimously determined that a wiser and more fiscally sound use would be the immediate reduction of future, unfunded liabilities to the taxpayers,” they said.
The decision will help to maintain smooth operations without significant voids in coverage, the selectmen said.
Breton disagrees and said the board should have waited and tried to solve the problem another way.