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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 18, 2010

Town workers riled over plan to hire back bookkeeper

By Saranac Hale Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — The bookkeeper’s salary brought half a dozen angry workers to Town Hall last week.

Lisa Boehlke, the town’s bookkeeper, left at the beginning of this year for a higher salary in the nearby town of Coeymans.  She had made $18.73 per hour in New Scotland.  Melanie Ernst, who had moved from her part-time position to the bookkeeper’s post, found that the hours didn’t work with her schedule, Supervisor Thomas Dolin explained before he asked the town board to hire Boehlke back for $21.50 an hour.

“If an employee resigns and returns, please explain why they should be rewarded with a 15-percent hourly increase,” Pat Geurtze, a clerk, read to the board from a letter she had written.  “We are united in saying that we are against this increase without salary schedules in place.  We are requesting that a freeze be placed on all salary increases, including the bookkeeper position, until such time as there is a salary schedule for every seasonal, part-time, full-time, and appointed employee,” she said.

At the beginning of 2009, the town hired Darryl Purinton, a certified public accountant, to restructure some parts of the town’s operation, including the pay structure.  Councilwoman Deborah Baron and former Councilwoman Margaret Neri sat on the Governance Committee, which was charged with examining job responsibilities and payment in Town Hall.

The pair began work on the project with Purinton, then hit a road block, and got distracted with other town business, Baron explained to the small crowd last week.

“We realize that the commercial zoning law issue has taken a lot of the board’s time, but we would like to remind you that it is just as important to address the needs and concerns of town employees,” highway worker Kevin Schenmeyer read from a letter he had written to the board.  It was signed by 14 other employees.

 “We already know what the vote’s going to be,” Geurtze said, referring to the new town board majority, made up of Dolin and councilmen Douglas LaGrange and Daniel Mackay, who ran together for last November’s election.

After discussion, the board voted 3-2 to hire Boehlke at $21.50 an hour.

“You’re causing low morale by picking and choosing like this,” she said to Dolin of hiring Boehlke at the higher salary.

“All these inferences that I did something nefarious… I find upsetting,” Dolin said.

Each fall, during the preparation of the coming year’s budget, employees are hopeful that they will get raises — the court clerks voiced their discontent with their pay at a budget meeting in October.

“Councilperson [Richard] Reilly felt the Board shouldn’t deal with other raises beyond COLA [Cost of Living Allowance] until we’ve gone through that process,” say the minutes from the Oct. 15 meeting, referring to the process of restructuring the pay scale. 

The town has scheduled a meeting to March 24 to explore the issue.

Court clerks in New Scotland, a town with about 9,000 residents, make $16.11 per hour and highway workers make between $19 and $22 and hour.  In Berne, which has about 3,000 residents, court clerks make $15.37 an hour and highway workers make $18.89 an hour, with the foreman making $20.15.  In Westerlo, which has about 3,500 residents, the court clerks make $16.25 an hour and highway workers make between $18.37 and $19.90.  In Coeymans, which has about 8,000 residents, the court clerks make $23.49 an hour and highway workers make between $19.01 and $21.49.  In the much larger, suburban town of Guilderland, which has about 35,000 residents, court clerks make between $31,215 and $39,150 a year and highway workers make between $15.78 and $24.28 an hour.

“Obviously there’s a lot of pent-up anger over the way they’ve been treated these last five years,” Dolin said this week of the apparent animosity that has swelled in town hall from not having in place a pay scale that compensates for longevity.

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