SOUTH KINGSTOWN – The town council voted in favor of changes to the pay schedule Monday, creating a new grade level despite some debate over whether or not now was an appropriate time to increase spending.

These changes for non-union town employees, which were approved as part of the budget in late April and reaffirmed on Monday night, include bumping two positions into a new grade, according to Director of Administrative Services Aimee Reiner. 

Director of Public Services Jon Shock, and Finance Director Zachary Saul have not been reclassified to Grade 19, according to Town Manager Robert Zarnetske, due to the complexity and scopes of their positions. 

To councilman Rory McEntee’s question of why these employees were seeing a raise, as opposed to all the other hard working members of town government, these positions “are very broad and complex.” 

“These positions are really the most complex we’re got in town government,” Zarnetske said. “All directors do very important work, but the scope of dollars involved in the management of [the department of public services], the scope of dollars involved, obviously, in the management of the finance department, the number of personnel and the scope of the work are distinguishing factors.”

Out of concern for the financial hardships brought on by the current pandemic, councilman Bryant Da Cruz questioned the possibility of placing a temporary, six month freeze on these pay raises.

Though the town is contractually obligated to pay the raises of union contract positions, and had the option of holding off on raises for non-union employees, Zarnetke said he wasn’t in favor of this. 

“Whether that hurts morale, changes the characteristics of the organization or creates a dynamic in the organization that’s going to be counterproductive, is really just a question of feeling out where folks are,” Zarnetske said. 

“I do think that it’s fair to say that everybody in South Kingstown has been working their tail off since COVID-19 hit,” he added. “I’m not in favor of doing anything that doesn’t recognize the extraordinary efforts that have been made by folks who are working for the town.”

Additional wage increases in the year to come might stem from a new municipal court in South Kingstown, which is currently still on Gov. Gina Raimondo’s desk, awaiting approval. This will create a new revenue stream for the town, but it will also add to the responsibilities of the town clerk’s office. 

Da Cruz recognized the complexity of Saul and Shock’s positions, but still expressed concerns about increased spending. He pointed out that the people have recently been laid off at the adult daycare center, “but next week we’re increasing wages.”

Unfortunately, Zarnetske said, there’s never a good time for laying people off, and there’s never a good time to increase wages. 

“I’m aware of the fact that the timing is not great, however, this is our schedule,”he said. “We’re where we are every year, with the same request for codifying the pay grade schedule.”

Councilman Joe Viele expressed some concerns about tax collections, but that in the grand scheme of a $96 million budget, tens of thousands of dollars, as much as he stressed that every dollar matters in a budget, would be minor. 

If things took a turn for the worst, financially, Viele said the town could potentially reopen contracts and ask non-union employees to forgo raises.

Community member Greg Sweet also expressed some concerns for what the future will bring, and whether or not now is the time to be making changes to the pay grade.

Many people are cutting back and are having to make sacrifices to continue paying their taxes, he said, stressing that this should be taken into consideration before the council votes for increases. 

The business owner said he’ll be forgoing raises for his own employees this year. While they might not have liked receiving this news, Sweet said that everyone was understanding. Town employees would understand if they went without a raise this year too, he said. 

“I think they understand what’s going on locally,” he said. “There are many people, locally, who don’t have jobs now – let alone a raise.” 

In response, Zarnetkse said that many town employees, especially in the town clerk’s office, are working weekends and dealing with extraordinary work volumes to keep public services running – and getting emergency mail ballots for the budget referendum out the door. 

“There’s a lot of pain out there, but the town government is still working,” Zarnetske said. “For some of these folks, the fact that it’s still working under these adverse conditions, is the pain.”

Sweet stressed that he fully appreciates the work and efforts being put in by town employees, and doesn’t think anyone at town hall isn’t deserving of a raise. 

Sharing similar concerns, Da Cruz voted against the new changes to the pay schedule. While he’s thankful to town employees for their efforts, Da Cruz is still worried about being in “unchartered territory.” 

All other council members were in support of the changes. 

In other business, the council also approved a resolution authorizing necessary expenditures for continued public services. This authorization was needed since the final budget can not be adopted until after the budget referendum, scheduled for July 14. 

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