Leyden voters OK $1.9M budget following amendments

  • From left, Municipal Assistant Michele Giarusso, Selectboard Chair William Glabach and Selectboard member Erica Jensen at Leyden’s Annual Town Meeting, held Tuesday outside Town Hall. STAFF PHOTO/Mary Byrne

  • Leyden voters approved all articles, with few amendments, at the Annual and Special Town Meetings on Tuesday night. Voters convened outside Town Hall. STAFF PHOTO/Mary Byrne

Staff Writer
Published: 6/22/2022 4:26:48 PM
Modified: 6/22/2022 4:26:29 PM

LEYDEN — Annual Town Meeting voters approved a total operating budget for fiscal year 2023 of nearly $1.9 million — representing a 5.5% increase from the current budget — on Tuesday and opted to change the town clerk position from elected to appointed.

The voted budget includes an amendment to the salary requests for the members and chair of the Board of Assessors, returning them to their fiscal year 2022 salaries of $3,200 and $4,800, up from the requested amounts of $2,000 and $3,000, respectively. The amendment, proposed by former Selectboard member Jeffrey Neipp, passed by a majority. The total budget also reflects a correction to the treasurer’s salary, which erroneously included the $1,000 cost of certification.

With the exception of subtracting $1,000 from the treasurer’s salary line and adding a total of $3,000 to the Board of Assessors salaries, the rest of the budget passed as proposed — though not without significant debate from residents, who were concerned about increases in certain departments and the impact those changes would have on taxpayers.

“We really, really dug in … and we put aside our differences,” said Ginger Robinson, chair of the Finance Committee.

Still, certain increases, including a $9,200 raise to Municipal Assistant Michele Giarusso’s salary, stirred debate. Residents Peter Tusinski and his wife, Cecelia, argued that in light of economic hardship, increases to the budget should be taken seriously.

“We felt there were three positions that were grossly underpaid,” explained Robinson, noting that those positions were the town clerk and fire chief, in addition to the municipal assistant. “All three of those positions got pretty hefty raises.”

The increase for the town clerk position amounted to a difference of $1,760, from $8,240 to $10,000, and the fire chief’s salary saw an increase of $4,000, from $1,000 to $5,000.

Selectboard member Erica Jensen said the salaries presented in the budget were a reflection of a wage and compensation study conducted in the last few years.

“Within that (report), there were a few positions that were historically underfunded,” Jensen said.

Finance Committee member Nate Messer added that the results of that study are now dated, and the reality is likely even worse.

“We have a workers’ market,” he said. “Even with that one municipal assistant raise … it’s still on the lower end of the wage study.”

Echoing her husband’s concerns, Cecelia Tusinski said it was unfair to compare Leyden to other towns.

“I think you have to bear (population) in mind when comparing with other salaries,” she said, adding that Leyden is low in terms of average income.

As part of the discussion, one resident motioned to amend the general government budget so as to limit any raises to a maximum of 5%. While there was some discussion in support, others felt it was unfair to cap salaries that the town was trying to adjust to meet market standards. The motion failed by a vote of roughly 50 to 30, said Moderator Katherine DiMatteo.

Few other articles on the warrant generated as much discussion as the general government portion of the total operating budget. In a review of the police portion of the budget — which included $85,644 for the Leyden/Bernardston interim agreement — residents did have questions about the status of the Police Department. Town officials and Elizabeth Kidder, chair of the Leyden Public Safety Advisory Committee, assured residents there will be a “seamless” transition in service from Leyden on June 30 to Bernardston on July 1.

The article that sought to change the town clerk position from elected to appointed passed unanimously following a few clarifying questions. Selectboard Chair William Glabach said although the town is “very happy” with the work of its current clerk, Gilda Galvis, the switch will open the candidate pool in the future to residents from outside of Leyden. He noted the difficulty in all professions trying to find willing, qualified candidates.

The change will not take effect until fiscal year 2024, and appointees would serve one-year terms.

Special Town Meeting

Voters were asked to make several free cash transfers at Special Town Meeting Tuesday night, which took place just before the Annual Town Meeting.

Robinson explained that in making these transfers, the town is “divvying up” its surpluses from the current fiscal year. Many of the transfers were aimed at decreasing spending on future costs, particularly for equipment. The Fire Department is in need of new self-contained breathing apparatuses, and the Highway Department is anticipating needing a new truck.

Although all eight Special Town Meeting articles passed, Peter Tusinski objected to the fact these free cash transfers were decided upon by a Selectboard that will change following the June 27 election. He motioned to postpone all money-related articles, but DiMatteo explained he would need to make such a motion on each individual article.

“Many of us are not millionaires and are on fixed incomes,” he said.

Although his motion did receive a second, it ultimately failed.

Article 6 sought to establish a broadband/enterprise stabilization account. Jack Golden, manager of the Municipal Light Plant, explained the article entailed opening a savings account. The money in the account, he noted, would come from fees collected from customers for service. The article passed unanimously after a few clarifying questions.

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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