As two local towns look to lure the most qualified candidates to fill their top administrative positions, salaries are expected to be competitive.

"What you aim to do is to be competitive and not waste citizens' money," said Larry Budreau, director of human resources and administration in Derry.

Derry is interviewing six finalists for its next town administrator, with Gary Stenhouse retiring.

In Salem, officials will soon begin their search for a new town manager after recently accepting the resignation of Jon Sistare, who has been on medical leave since November while being treated for prostate cancer. He received $121,000 in severance pay.

Budreau said they hired Stenhouse in July 2007 at a starting salary of $114,000; he makes $117,650 now.

"We advertised this job at $100,000-plus," Budreau said. "We've got to pick somebody and negotiate."

Budreau said salaries offered by similar size towns — collected and organized each year by the New Hampshire Local Government Center — do come into play during hiring, as do the salaries experienced applicants have made in the past.

He said he thought town manager/administrator salaries have risen steadily in recent years. A position with so much responsibility demands high pay, he said.

"I spent a number of years as a private-sector human resources person," Budreau said. "I can tell you that, for basically a CEO position, it's competitively paid."

Sistare, who was previously the town manager in Jaffrey, was hired in Salem at $118,000, Finance Director Jane Savastano said. In January 2009, he received a 3 percent raise, bringing his salary to $121,540.

That's quite a bit more than what interim Town Manager Henry LaBranche, who was the full-time town manager before Sistare, used to make.

"When I left the job in the fall of 2007, my message to the board was that they were going to have to become competitive in their salary," LaBranche said.

LaBranche said he worked at the same salary level throughout his tenure, about $88,000, and it was based on the previous town manager's salary set in 2005.

"I said, 'That's not going to be competitive enough for you to attract high-quality candidates for the job,'" he said. "Especially when you look across the state at comparable communities and you find they are in excess of $100,000, and we were at $88,000."

LaBranche said he thought Sistare's salary, with a marginal increase, was still competitive when compared to towns like Dover, Merrimack and Derry.

"The base is there," he said. "And I think with some marginal increase in consideration, they can still remain competitive."

There still will be room for negotiation between the Board of Selectmen and candidates once Salem does find finalists.

"Typically what boards do is they publish a range," LaBranche said. "And the boards want to get it at the low range, and the candidate wants to get it at the high range."

During his tenure as interim town manager, LaBranche is working 34 hours a week — 6.8 hours a day — and earning $500 daily, Savastano said.

The salaries are on par with other towns with populations of 25,000 or more, according to the Local Government Center. In Merrimack, the town manager made $119,485 in 2009; in Rochester, the position paid 119,940. In Dover, the pay was $113,682.

Londonderry, with a population just under 25,000, pays Town Manager David Caron $121,000. In Windham, Town Administrator David Sullivan earns $99,254, but the starting pay for the position is $77,385, according to Kathy Davis, human resources coordinator. In Atkinson, Town Administrator Philip Smith earns $72,000 a year.

In Pelham, Town Administrator Tom Gaydos said he will earn $98,677 this year, and is working with the Board of Selectmen to renegotiate his contract. He has been in Pelham for eight years, and in the town administration business for 19 years. He said it has become quite competitive.

"I think one of the biggest things that's going to happen is as us old fogies here start retiring, you're going to start seeing some real competition among the people who have been in the business," Gaydos said.

He said there's not a huge pool of qualified candidates, and towns are generally looking for experience.

"It's not the kind of business you can go to school and learn," Gaydos said. "Every town is a little different with the board, what kind of temperament they want in their administrator or manager."

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