SALEM, N.H. — Some budget committee members are outraged by the way Town Manager Chris Dillon was given a nearly $12,000 raise in 2020, and now believe changes should be considered for the sake of transparency.
The issue came to a head at a Budget Committee meeting Saturday afternoon, when selectmen representative James Keller came under fire for an incorrect explanation he gave back in October regarding Dillon’s salary.
When asked at the time, Keller said Dillon's 8% raise awarded by selectmen was written into his contract. However, when a member of the committee later reviewed the town manager’s contract, there was no mention of an obligatory increase.
Committee members agreed their concern is not with the town manager’s performance, but with the answer they were given after asking if the raise was already promised in a contract.
Member Peter Edgerly said this weekend, “this isn’t the year to give someone almost a $12,000 raise. Personally, I don’t care if the town manger struck oil on town property when there are people in town getting laid off, furloughed, and are in financial crisis.”
He added, “Transparency in government is crucial. I don’t think this process was entirely transparent.”
Chairman D.J. Bettencourt agreed, saying the spending is not something he would have done.
Selectmen review the town manager’s performance annually before deciding whether to change his pay.
“There’s a process that I believe is in place that would codify those changes in the contract,” Keller said, meaning wording is added to Dillon’s contract to memorialize any changes in pay.
“I came to learn some time this fall that that did not occur last year,” he said over the weekend. “The board certainly has contractual authority in terms of the increase, but I apologize if I wasn’t clear in terms of my response.”
Committee member Steven Goddu said he “is going to take him at his word that he didn’t intend to mislead us.”
But concern remains that the current process allows selectmen to start paying Dillon at a new rate without Budget Committee involvement.
“We don’t see it in a line item until they have shuffled money around, and already given the raises that they have decided,” Goddu said.
The process is not a new one, but Goddu explained, “this one caught our eye because it was huge in comparison to what everyone else received.”
He questions whether it would be possible to shift the municipal budgeting process to match that of the School District, with a July 1 start date.
“We see potential salary increases before the employees receive the raise,” Goddu said of the School District. “In the town budget, we see them after those decisions are made. It circumvents the Budget Committee.”
According to Keller, selectmen conducted a salary survey of town managers in the area and learned that Dillon was the lowest paid in the region — surrounding positions pay $180,000 to $230,000.
Dillon’s 8% raise at the onset of the pandemic brought his annual pay from $138,375 to $150,000. Overall, records show his pay is up 11% percent in just over two and a half years.
“This was announced in a June Board of Selectmen meeting. It was on TV, it was on a recording,” Keller said. “We also discussed the performance of the town manager in October. There is nothing nefarious here. It was all out in the open.”
Committee member Tanya Donnelly said she would like that documentation provided to the Budget Committee in the future.
“I’m disappointed in being misled,” she said. “It was very clear you wanted to shut us down.”