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More in News
Christmas bonuses questioned
PARIS -- Is opposing Christmas bonuses for taxpayer-funded employees a sign of fiscal wisdom, or is it just following in the ways of Ebenezer Scrooge?
The issue drew heated debate at a meeting of the Paris board of selectmen on Monday, when Budget Committee Member Barbara Payne accused the Norway Paris Solid Waste (NPSW) board of surreptitiously slipping holiday dollars into employee pockets without proper approval.
David Stanley, speaking on behalf of the employees, said that Payne was mischaracterizing the issue.
"It was a tissue of misstatements," said Stanley. "The whole thing, it's just not true."
Selectman Lloyd Herrick, a former sheriff, said that he believed that a bonus to government-affiliated organizations, like the NPSW, would be illegal.
"I don't care what you call it, if... it's called a bonus, the law is very specific," said Herrick. "No government employee or government-associated employee will have any type of bonus. That's like, when I was sheriff, if I take taxpayers' funds and buy turkeys to give people at Thanksgiving, no no, you can't do that. That's illegal."
"I think it's much better if you say inappropriate rather than illegal," said Stanley.
Paris Town Manager Phil Tarr said that he had raised the question of legality with the Maine Municipal Association.
Tarr said that the MMA representative "couldn't see specifically any law that would prevent it. It came down to the fact that it probably would be considered part of the compensation package."
Norway Town Manager David Holt, who sits on the NPSW Board, said that he agrees with the MMA's assessment.
"I don't know why it would be illegal," said Holt.
"I don't want anybody to misinterpret, don't get me wrong," said Herrick. "I think it's a great thing to do for any employee, but there's a difference between compensation for private employees versus public employees. The Attorney General ruled on that with me several years ago, when I wanted to do something, and they said take it out of your pocket and do it for your employees, but don't do it with public dollars."
"You said it was illegal," said Stanley.
"I said what I asked for, what I tried to do was illegal, could be illegal," said Herrick. "Well, it could be David, interpreted illegal to do it with public taxpayer dollars ... it may be illegal. I'm sorry. It may be that."
"I've been serving on the budget committee for I don't know how long. I never realized there was a bonus fed into that budget anywhere," said Payne. "[Town Manager Phil Tarr] said he didn't know there was money in that budget for bonuses."
But Stanley says that the practice has been out in the open.
"They started talking about this being secret, and it isn't," said Stanley. "The actual line says Christmas bonus," said Stanley.
"It wasn't upfront," said Payne. "It wasn't in a line that was given to you in the budget book. It wasn't there."
Asked about whether the NPSW board should have been more open about the expenditure, Holt said that it should have.
"I agree with [Barbara Payne]," said Holt. "We don't do things like that without explaining what we're doing and why."
Exactly how the item has been marked in the budget is still unknown.
"The more I think about it, I think it is in that two- or three-page line item budget that they put out," said Selectboard Chair Ray Glover.
Stanley promised to check the documentation and share the corresponding budget sheet with the town.
The next day, Tarr said "there is no reference in the NPSW budget for Christmas bonuses or Thanksgiving turkeys."
However, Tarr said, removing the bonuses could be construed as a pay cut.
"Somewhat obscured last night, was the point if an employee’s W2 showed, for example, a year end salary of $25,000, and that employee received a 1 percent [bonus] at Christmas time, the gross cumulative weekly salary would be $24,750 and the remaining $250.00 would be the bonus," said Tarr.
Nine family Christmases
Stanley said that it would be unfair to suddenly take money away from employees who are expecting it at Christmastime.
"What the understanding that the employees have is that ... at Christmastime, they get this other addition to their pay," said Stanley.
"What they're understanding is, David, may be all well and good, but it doesn't make it right," said Herrick.
While the actual amount in question has yet to be determined, it is estimated that each of nine NPSW employees would get a 1 percent Christmas bonus, which would work out to between $160 and $300 per employee.
"It's not a very large amount," said Stanley. "To make a fuss about this, in this fashion, is, I believe, unconscionable. It's just not appropriate."
"I certainly hope that there isn't some thought of not paying the employees what they're expecting this year," said Stanley.
Norway Town Manager David Holt, speaking as a member of the NPSW, said that the issue was a sensitive one.
"We're fortunate to have these folks working for us at NPSW," said Holt. "They don't get paid very much."
"The former board had instituted this as a way of recognizing them," said Holt. "It seems to be important to the employees down there. I personally am not in favor of this form of recognition."
Holt said that Norway employees didn't get any raises this year. On the other hand, said Holt, "Generally, Norway employees are paid better than NPSW."
"I would like to get away from that type of recognition in the long run," said Holt. "This isn't like the bonuses that you hear about on the news. This is a turkey at Thanksgiving, and a very small amount of money at Christmastime. I think the employees there probably depend on this to buy Christmas presents."
"I would probably be in favor of continuing for one more year, but then ending it with explanation to employees that it is not a sign that we don't value them," said Holt.
"If this is something that's deemed illegal. You won't have to ask for my resignation," said Stanley. "You have it."
Tarr said that the issue is not the overall level of compensation, but the idea of a Christmas bonus.
"A resolution to this somewhat meaningless issue would be to fix the employees' salaries at what they will be at year’s end," said Tarr after the meeting. "Do away with the bonuses as a matter of practice and give the employees a holiday lunch like we do here in Paris."
The matter will be addressed at the next meeting of the NPSW board, on November 17.