After a couple weeks of delay, the council passed the fiscal year 2016 municipal budget on June 29th. The $156 million dollar budget was approved on a 7-2 vote with myself and Councilor Ron Marsan voting in opposition.
The biggest topic of discussion throughout the night was the salary of city employees, or more specifically, why they were going up. The wage and salary classification, or “matrix”, sets pay increases in a series of five steps. Each step represents a year of service and a pre-determined raise.
The issue during the budget debate became what happens when an employee is “maxed out” in the matrix. The solution proposed to this perceived problem is to promote or “reclassify” the employee into a higher salary class, therefore restarting the step process. This raises a question that the taxpayers deserve an answer to: is it in the best interest of the taxpayers to approve promotions and raise taxes to pay for them?
The reality is, the process works like a giant seesaw: salaries at city hall go up, and taxpayer’s available income goes down. Essentially, the council cut the pay of the taxpayers of Methuen in order to give raises and promotions to city hall employees. This is wrong. Unfortunately, instead of considering raises in the context of the larger community of taxpayers, the conversation during the budget debate focused almost exclusively on whether or not the particular employee was deserving of a raise.
Since the answer to those questions is almost always “yes”, the conversation fails to take into account the other part of the equation which is, “can the taxpayers afford this?” That is the question we should ask first, instead of, at best, an afterthought.
The average citizen understands that taxes may have to go up each year. What they should not accept are continued promotions and pay raises for government employees, which results in their own pay being cut. This fiscally irresponsible practice is not one that is reflective of a government that acts in the best interest of its citizens.
During our July 6th meeting, the city council will be considering a resolution opposing the proposed Kinder-Morgan pipeline expansion project through Methuen.
Working in conjunction with the community group “Methuen pipeline awareness”, I am proud to have introduced this resolution on their behalf. The non-binding resolution is similar to resolutions passed by dozen of other communities in Western Mass, New Hampshire and the Merrimack Valley, all of which are being affected by this proposed pipeline.
The resolution before the council that night will address specific concerns raised by both councilors and numerous residents during a information meeting on the project attended by Kinder-Morgan in early June. Whether it is the safety concerns over the much larger pipe that is being proposed, or the disturbing of wetland, conservation and developed residential lands, the risks to Methuen residents and property clearly outweigh any potential future benefits.
While it is true the council ultimately has no power to stop Kinder-Morgan from proceeding with their plans, it has been proven since this project was first announced that communities standing in united opposition to the project have had successes in the proposed route bypassing their communities. The residents of Methuen spoke in nearly unanimous opposition to the pipeline at the meeting this past June, and it is my hope that the council will join them in their opposition loudly and clearly by passing this important resolution on July 6th.
Daniel Grayton is currently serving as a Councilor at-Large in the City of Methuen. He can be reached at DanielGrayton@gmail.com