Town Meeting OKs police chief salary hike

$7.2 million budget approved along with several Community Preservation Act projects

For the Gazette
Monday, May 09, 2016

SUNDERLAND — Town Meeting voters on April 29 approved an amended budget with a $123,886 increase from the current year and several Community Preservation Act projects.

Voters at Sunderland Elementary School approved a $7,228,146 budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, with notable adjusted figures in the Police Department and town library categories following lengthy discussions.

Residents adopted a $420,228 police budget that includes a $7,000 salary increase for the chief that was approved via amendment. They also agreed to a $2,649 increase among the Sunderland Public Library’s support staff members and a $923 cost-of-living increase for Director Katherine Hand.

Sunderland Finance Committee member Bruce Bennett explained the suggested extra $2,000 bump would bring the chief’s annual salary to $72,000 beginning July 1. It is currently $65,000. Sunderland needs to replace retired Chief Jeffrey Gilbert and Bennett explained that a $72,000 salary is much more competitive.

A nine-member police chief search committee reviewed a pool of candidates and recommended three to the Select Board for more consideration.

Select Board Chairman Scott Bergeron said he applauds the Finance Committee, but believed an increase to the Select Board-recommended $70,000 was adequate.

Laurie Salame, who said she was a member of the search committee, encouraged the crowd to vote for the amended figures, as many good candidates dropped out when they learned about the salary. She called it a minor increase.

Mike Wozniakewicz, also on the search committee, said Sunderland is the fifth-largest town in Franklin County and pays the lowest salary for a full-time police chief.

The Fire Department budget of $274,764 is down $42,366 from this year. Town Administrator Sherry Patch previously said this is the result of a drop in Sunderland’s assessment for South County Emergency Medical Services. Patch said Deerfield, the fiscal agent for the regional ambulance service, used some retained earnings to lower Sunderland’s assessment.

The ambulance serves Sunderland, Deerfield and Whately.

Adoption of three other articles appropriated $138,631 for three projects recommended by the Sunderland Community Preservation Act Committee. Voters agreed on $52,000 for restoration work to Riverside Cemetery, $50,000 to restore a 1925 REO fire truck for the town’s tricentennial in 2018, and $36,631 for Riverfront Recreation Area that includes rehabilitation of a boat launch at the end of School Street and construction of a riverside pedestrian trail.