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Pay Freezes – Not in Walpole

April 23, 2010

Last year, in the midst of what has been called the largest economic depression this country has experienced since the Great Depression, state legislators were given customary pay raises as required by the Massachusetts Constitution. But our local state senator, Jim Timilty, who has kids in the Walpole Public Schools and understands the value of keeping teachers employed even in hard economic times, declined the raise. “It was very important for him to express to all of his constituents that he would choose to go without this increase for the good of the taxpayers,” his office wrote in the recently-released 2009 Annual Town Report. It was “one of the first acts that Senator Timilty took” when “expected revenues for the year [were] projecting well below benchmarks,” his office wrote further.

Timilty has come through for Walpole time and time again, standing up for Walpole when its prison mitigation money is cut and standing up for Walpole taxpayers when the governor increases the sales tax.

Yet Senator Timilty’s fiscally conservative and very responsible decision to reject a pay raise was apparently not reproduced at Walpole Town Hall. Even while municipal officials complained last year that the state has not come through with enough local aid figures and that health care costs are skyrocketing, a closer look at the 2009 payroll reveals that town employees, including administrators and teachers are receiving lavish pay raises year after year. Even during last year’s economic recession when the town lost prison mitigation money, no pay freeze was implemented at any level of municipal government. Town Administrator Michael Boynton’s budget this year, too, calls for wage increases for both non-union and union town employees even when teachers are on the verge of being laid off.

The Town Administrator, Assistant Town Administrator, and School Superintendent saw their salaries go up about $6000 each between 2008 and 2009. The head of the Walpole Teachers Association also pocketed a $6000 increase. A salary lookup of random teachers at Walpole High School shows that they, too, received pay raises upwards of $2000 to $6000 last year. Some of these teachers got their raises because they got their Master’s Degree between 2008 and 2009, but not all of them. Both high school assistant principals walked away with $6000 each in raises last year (one has since been promoted.)

Municipal department heads saw raises as well, along with assistant department heads townwide.

I know that officials always say that the employees deserve every penny of their salary. But so do the employees at FedEx, who last year didn’t get any raises. I know we need to remain competitive in salaries, namely in our school department. But when your local state senator, a Democrat, takes a ceremonial pay freeze, when Tropicana Casino and Resort, Avis, Yahoo! and hundreds of other companies all take pay freezes during an economic recession, take a hint. FedEx and Caterpillar actually went so far as to cut executive salaries last year (we don’t need to go that far.) Scott Brown, before his election to the US Senate in January, called for a wage freeze for all federal employees, an initiative President Obama implemented for some White House employees upon his inauguration. Stop the raises in Walpole.

Above all, stop using the term “Cost of Living Adjustment.” This excuse for raising salaries has been discredited by economists because the cost of living is constantly going up anyway, and often goes up less than salaries go up. Salary raises should not be automatic. They should be implemented when an employee deserves it and when the budget allows for it. The budget this year and last year most certainly does not allow for raises for any town employee, when we are laying off multiple teachers in our school system.

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