October 24, 2014

Chester Selectmen to Make Decision on Assessor as Labor Complaint Looms

CHESTER— The board of selectmen is preparing to make decisions on the tax assessor position as a complaint by the former assessor heads to a hearing before the state Board of Labor Relations.

The hearing on a complaint filed by Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) on behalf of former assessor Patricia Stevenson is scheduled for Thursday at the State Board of Labor Relations offices in Wethersfield. Stevenson, a Killingworth resident who has served as a full-time tax assessor for a decade, was dismissed by the board of selectmen in May.

The board acted on a 2-1 vote, with Democratic Selectman Lawrence Sypher opposed, after town attorney John Bennet determined the assessor job was an appointed position with a four-year term. The selectmen had not voted on an appointment for Stevenson since 2005.

First Selectman Tolm Marsh, with support from Republican Selectman Tom Englert, decided to explore cost savings in the assessor’s office, including the possibility of sharing an assessor with another town. Stevenson maintains she is a town employee and union member, regardless of appointment or reappointment. The selectmen in June hired Michael Bekech, the tax assessor in Waterford, to staff the Chester office for eight to ten hours per week.
Marsh said last week Bekech has determined the Chester assessor should work 18 hours per week, a reduction from the 27 to 30 hours per week the town has funded in past years. “We’re still deciding how to do it,” he said, adding the options include hiring a part-time assessor, or sharing an assessor with another town.
Marsh said he expects the board to make decisions on the future of the assessor position in September. Bekech continues working in Chester as the part-time interim assessor.

Essex Finance Board Sends Town Clerk Request Back to the Selectmen

ESSEX— The board of finance Thursday declined to act on Town Clerk Frances Nolin’s request for additional hours for her office assistant, sending the issue back to the board of selectmen.

Nolin, represented by Chester lawyer John Bennet, asked the board to approve about $10,000 in additional funding to bring her assistant, Dana Novorio, back to a 30-hour work week. First Selectman Phil Miller had reduced the assistant’s hours to 20 hours-per-week in March 2009 as a cost saving measure. Five hours, to a 25-hour-week, were restored in the current town budget that became effective July 1.

Nolin, represented by Bennet, had appeared before the board of selectmen on July 7 to seek approval for a restortation of the 30-hour-week. Bennet said Nolin has had difficulty in performing all of the duties of the office without the additional hours for an assistant. He said Nolin could be forced to reduce the hours for the office, which is currently open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, if the hours were not restored.

A 30-hour-week for Novorio would also recover her some fringe benefits as a full-time employee. Before the reduction in hours, she had received a $3,000 payment in lieu of health insurance, which Novorio has through her husband’s coverage.

Bennet said Nolin is seeking additional funding of $9,933, including the $3,000 payment in lieu of coverage, $5,933 in salary, and an additional $1,000 for other part-time help if needed during the 2010-2011 fiscal year. He said Nolin does not want to reduce hours for the office, but could be forced to without additional hours for the assistant.

James Francis, finance board chairman since 2003, said Nolin’s request was the first the board had received without a prior approval of the expenditure by the board of selectmen. “This is the first time someone has come to us directly,” he said.

Board member Campbell Hudson also questioned whether the board should act on a funding request that had not been approved by the selectmen. Hudson added that budget appropriations for town offices should only be changed in the “most extreme cases,” particularly less than two months in to a fiscal year.

First Selectman Phil Miller said he had offered to restore Novorio to a 28-hour week, three additional hours, though the selectmen did not vote on the additional hours on July 7 because Nolin had indicated she would not accept the compromise suggestion. Miller acknowledged the town clerk is an elected official “with a certain degree of autonomy,” adding “she can close on Fridays if she wants and then explain it to our citizens.”

Bennet said Nolin would bring her request back to the board of selectmen, and seek a formal vote on a specific additional appropriation. “We’re not going to try to upset that procedural applecart,” he said.