Dalton voters to decide whether to eliminate compensation for Select Board
DALTON >> A citizen's petition has put the power in the hands of town voters to eliminate "all compensation for members of the Dalton Select Board for [next] fiscal year."
Ironically, or perhaps more accurately, calculatingly, a candidate for one of two Select Board seats due to open up next month in the coming town election — Margaret Cahill of Barton Hill Road — originated the petition as a cost-saving measure.
"Imagine running for a job the week after you've asked the town to cut the salary," Cahill said. "The financial situation of the town has deteriorated, and here in Dalton we don't lack for people willing to volunteer and help, which is wonderful."
She added, "Perhaps, if the Select Board is looking for places where cuts can be made, they should start with themselves."
At a recent regular meeting, the Select Board discussed the citizen's petition, ultimately deciding to vote unanimously against the measure.
The rest of the town will have a crack at voting on the petition at annual town meeting on at 7 p.m. on Monday at Wahconah Regional High School.
Towns like Williamstown and Lenox do not compensate Select Board members, but most others in the Berkshires do.
The Dalton Select Board chairman receives annual compensation of $4,487, while the other four members receive salaries of $3,491, for an annual total cost of $18,351.
However, because these elected officials receive compensation, Massachusetts law dictates that they must have an option to receive health insurance through the town — opening up a potential, bigger cost, one which Cahill was more concerned with in crafting her petition.
"I don't think anyone's begrudging the Select Board members a few thousand dollars, but the compensation opens us up to the real expense, because of Massachusetts state law," Cahill said. "If all five members opted to take this health benefit, we're talking about roughly $100,000."
Cahill said she has tried to find out how many of the current Select Board members receive town health insurance — not which ones, but how many — but "couldn't get a straight answer."
"All I know is [the town cost on Select Board health insurance] is not zero," Cahill said.
Town Manager Kenneth E. Walto explained why.
"I do not track which members take coverage or employees for that matter as I consider that an unwarranted invasion of their private affairs, unless there is a legal or technical issue with an individual's coverage," Walto said. "I am concerned about the overall budget, the headcount, the split between employer and employee, the trend in premiums, etcetera."
The high-cost scenario Cahill described could theoretically come to pass, Walto said.
Individual town employee health insurance amounts to $728 per month — almost $9,000 per year — but family coverage runs up to $1,941 — more than $23,000 per year.
But, Walto added, the situation would be exceedingly rare based upon historical precedent.
"It has been my casual observation over the years that very few Select Board members take the coverage as they typically receive it elsewhere, perhaps one out of five on any given board," he said.
Nonetheless, Cahill said she believes the political winds in town are in her favor.
"I think there's a good chance [the citizen's petition] might pass," Cahill said. "That's what I'm hearing from people."
Cahill is one candidate in a four-person race for two opening Select Board seats in the May 9 town election.
Her opponents include incumbent Selectmen John W. Bartels Jr. of Sleepy Hollow Drive and John F. Boyle of East Housatonic Street and newcomer to the political scene Marc E. Strout of Hemlock Hill.
Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.
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