by Terry Duffy
Two "interesting discussions" marked a somewhat longer than typical Porter Town Board regular meeting, Monday night at Town Hall.
Leading off was a question posed by Brentwood Drive resident Sue Campbell as to the status of a project much discussed by the board but not yet completed, that being a town drainage repair planned for her property.
"I'm here for my annual visit on this," said Campbell, noting a number of prior appearances before the board to address the same issue - namely drainage work intended to fix a town-created problem stemming from earlier installation of drain piping, which aggravated a water collection problem on Campbell's and her neighbors' properties.
Pointing out how the town is now planning to repair a similar drainage problem affecting properties in Youngstown Estates, Campbell asked, "I'm first, what's happening?"
When asked by board members, Highway Superintendent Scott Hillman who also handles drainage for the town, replied that problems had developed with a contractor he intended to do the work and as a result he was now arranging for alternate contractor Scott MacVie to do the job. "I'm hopeful for him to get started this week, maybe Thursday," said Hillman, adding he intended to expedite the project to get it done.
"We should be good to go, all the materials are at the highway garage," Hillman said.
As of Thursday, utility flags were seen dotting Campbell's property in the area of the long planned-for repairs. However, no actual work had yet started.
The other "interesting discussion" was later in the session. It focused on the issue of salaries for Town Recreation Department 2012 summer hires.
Town Supervisor Mert Wiepert led off by attempting to head off debate, suggesting the board move it to an executive session matter. But no response in the form of a second was to come, and it remained in open discussion.
And it went on to grow more heated among town officials as time dragged on.
"Why an executive session - we're setting salaries. It's for new employees," said Town Councilman Joe Fleckenstein.
"It doesn't have to be an executive session if the board doesn't want it to," responded Town Attorney Mike Dowd. "It's up to the board."
Again Wiepert tried for executive session, asking "What's the pleasure of the board?" No response was to come.
With that Recreation Director Kathy Zasucha presented a proposal from the Town Recreation Commission for the town to reinstate an $8.53 per hour salary for all summer recreation employees. Currently, town summer rec employee salaries start at $7.25 per hour (minimum wage) and increase to $8.53 per hour for the second year employees. The wage remains the same for all succeeding years.
Zasucha pointed out all summer employees are high school graduates. All are age 18 years and older; they're college students, and the recreation work is demanding and temporary. And she said she is having a hard time retaining workers year after year. "They need a higher paying job" than what we offer, said Zasucha, noting the high cost of gas as one issue, plus the fact that workers can obtain higher paying employment elsewhere.
She told the board that this year, more applicants are non-residents than are Porter residents, and that over the last year she had seven quality employees who opted not to return. For 2012, Zasucha said she had seven new hires from Porter and nine from elsewhere; 16 are hired thus far and four openings remain. "I lost good quality people."
"What's the incentive here," asked Fleckenstein, informing Zasucha that under her proposal the pay would be the same for first and second year employees.
"There's (a need for) more of a solution here than just salary," said Fleckenstein, saying that at least under the existing plan it provided a wage increase the second year.
"This is a wonderful program," said Recreation Commission Chair Debbie Parker. "We have wages dating to the 1990s. We spent money to train them. You spend a lot on this program."
For 2012, the town had already budgeted a salary of $8.53 per hour for 20 employees.
Look "this is not a career for these kids, this is short-term," said Parker.
Zasucha asked board members why they opted last year to lower the entry salary to minimum in the first place. "These kids work very hard." No response came from the board other than town financial constraints it faced last year.
"For the level of responsibility they have - they manage 400 kids - we should pay them better than 1990's wages," said Parker.
Parker and Zasucha also pointed out that Lewiston and Wilson both offer more attractive salaries for their summer help than does Porter. "We're looking for an incentive for people to come on board," said Parker, telling the board that the $7.25 per hour coupled with the high cost of gas that workers contend with just to reach their employment doesn't cut it. She noted, for example, there's five employees in their third or fourth year of employment returning with no increase in pay.
Councilman Tom Baia then put forth the motion for the uniform $8.53 rate for all. A second was delayed in coming.
Discussions wore on and aggravations were now evident among the board, with gripes coming from Fleckenstein as well as from Councilman Jeff Baker. "Look, that's why I wanted this for executive session," said Wiepert.
Fleckenstein later seconded the measure, with a condition that the board is provided a list of the new employees to review before final approval for hire. He said he wanted to ensure that candidates' names were not being left off.
The measure was later approved on voice vote 4-1, with Baker voting "no." "I don't like the way this was presented tonight," said Baker afterward as the reason for his "no" vote.