Archive 2008 - 2019

Beware the Government “STUDY”

by William Dowd

Note: The author is a member of the Holliston Finance Committee. The opinions expressed here as his alone and should in no way be attributed to the Finance Committee. 

The Holliston Finance Committee has voted to recommend pay increases for department heads and other non-union employees that will cost some $80,000 IN ADDITION TO the cost of a 1% general wage increase applied to all budgets for FY15. You might wonder how the FinCom arrived at this recommendation. 

Just about three years ago, I sponsored several warrant articles seeking changes to the Town’s compensation and benefits. I proposed the end of a unique and troubling practice of paying employees for a portion of their unused sick leave at retirement. I proposed the end of Longevity Bonuses that are paid to employees based solely on the passage of time, not performance or results. The FinCom back then wasn’t sure the changes were a good idea and so they sponsored an article to fund compensation and benefits study to the tune of $30,000. 

After many months of delays, and significant components of the Request For Proposal deliverables undelivered, the FinCom and Selectmen began the process of dealing with the report’s many recommendations. Among those recommendations were proposed pay adjustments for many department heads and non-union support staff. Importantly, among the recommendations were also proposals to change the way the Town sets compensation and benefits strategy and policy, proposals to redeploy sick leave buy back and longevity, and a proposal to shrink the large number of non-union employees working under secretly negotiated employment contracts. 

The FinCom reviewed each and every recommendation and gave consensus guidance to the Selectmen and Town Administrator who are responsible for implementation of any changes to compensation and benefits for Town employees. The details of that consensus guidance are available from the FinCom. 

To be clear, I was dissatisfied with the compensation and benefits study report. It did not provide the Total Compensation analysis prescribed by the RFP, and it used a far too narrow definition of employment marketplace for determining the compensation value of positions. I did this work for over 30 years. I know how it should be done. 

At a minimum, I would have expected the Selectmen to prepare a comprehensive set of proposed actions from the report and rationale for each. Instead, the Board has chosen only the pay increase recommendations and left everything else for “maybe” and “later”. No change to how the Town sets compensation or benefits strategy, no changes to sick leave buy back or longevity, and no changes to the number of employees on employment contracts. Just the pay increases. And let’s not forget that the Town’s budget is over 2/3 pay and benefits, and we still owe nearly $50,000,000 in unfunded pensions and retiree health benefits. 

I was quite vocal about the error of just cherry picking the easy pay increase proposals from the report and leaving everything else just the way it is. The FinCom voted 5 -1 to recommend the $80,000 in pay increases anyway. And I’m pretty sure the 110 people who show up at Town Meeting will vote them as well. 

But for those of you with a few more laps around the track left in your time in Holliston, here’s the lesson – “STUDY” usually has two equally objectionable outcomes. Either lots of money is spent for a report that sits on a shelf, or lots of money is spent to support lots more money while leaving reform on the shelf. 

In May of 2011, I suppressed some hard learned cynicism to quietly allow my articles to be “indefinitely postponed” in favor of the study. Had I known then that the only thing that would really be “indefinitely” postponed was the hard work around reform and modernization, I’d have chosen a different path. Memo to self and you: Don’t let that happen again.