PROVINCETOWN — The select board meeting was a study in contrasts on Monday night: a systematic overhaul of the town’s salary schedule went smoothly, while the board’s review of the town manager was a rough ride. In the end, though, in both cases, significant raises will go into effect on July 1.
The compensation study has been in the works since at least April 2021 and is meant to ensure that the town is offering adequate pay to attract and retain staff. Various town leaders, including Fire Chief Mike Trovato and former DPW Director Rich Waldo, have said that Provincetown frequently loses employees to other towns that offer higher pay.
Because of the Outer Cape’s acute housing crisis, many employees are already commuting from the Lower and Mid Cape, Waldo told the Independent, and when jobs open up in towns nearer to their homes, it’s difficult to persuade them to continue working for Provincetown.
Retired human resources executive Earl Hinton worked with the town’s staff and new Finance Director Kate Carey to develop the compensation analysis, which compared Provincetown’s pay ranges and job descriptions to those in 18 other towns in Barnstable and Plymouth counties. Their study showed that Provincetown’s staff are paid on average 10 percent less than their peers in those other towns, partly because compensation has not been systematically addressed for the last seven years.
Their report also pointed out that, of the town’s 135 permanent full-time positions, 14 are currently vacant: that is, 10 percent of the town’s full-time workforce.
“That causes additional strain,” said Carey, “because then you have people who are potentially underpaid, and they’re doing the work of all the positions that are open. I’ve been here for three and a half months, and I’ve lost two key employees, both of whom have left for 25- to 30-percent pay raises,” Carey added.
The compensation study proposed new salary ranges that begin at competitive rates and include room for wage growth. Nearly all employees — 86 percent –– would receive a salary adjustment above their expected pay increase for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.
In the aggregate, the town’s $8.8-million payroll would rise by about $440,000, or 5 percent. Adjustments to the hourly wages paid to part-time and seasonal workers could bring the total increase to between $550,000 and $600,000, Carey said. That would be a 6.8 percent increase over the town’s current payroll.
The presentation also touched on other employment benefits, including child care. The town’s free program for town workers is “an exceptional benefit” for employees with young children, said Hinton.
“There are very few employers that offer anything like this,” Hinton said. “The average cost of day care is $13,000 per year,” with in-home child care costing even more. The town also pays 70 percent of health insurance premiums for employees.
The rise of remote work opportunities means the town is now competing against not just other towns but also the state government, Carey said. Both former Town Manager David Panagore and former Health Director Morgan Clark, for example, have taken higher-paying jobs at state agencies based in Boston — though both still live on the Cape.
The select board unanimously praised the study and said they would find the money to fund the pay increases, even though they are not currently budgeted. Carey pointed out that the current vacancies are likely to generate about $300,000 in unpaid wages before they are filled, which would go more than halfway to funding the increases.
“This is refreshing,” said select board member Louise Venden of the study, adding that it represented a hoped-for “level of sophistication and professionalization of how we handle employee matters.” As for its conclusions, she said, “We need to retain and hire people who are competent to take on what is a very ambitious agenda.”
Town Manager’s Review
That ambitious agenda was at the center of the night’s main dispute, however, which boiled down to whether Town Manager Alex Morse’s first annual performance review should have been scored by the select board as “exceeds expectations” rather than “meets expectations.”
The “meets expectations” score results in a 2.5-percent merit pay increase for the next year, while an “exceeds expectations” score would lead to a 4-percent increase over the $185,000 base salary Morse started with in early 2021.
Each of the five select board members rated the town manager in 10 “performance categories” (such as professional skills and citizen relations) and against nine “objectives” (such as expand sewer system and advance climate resiliency). Who gave which scores was not made public, but there were just enough low marks in various categories that a tally of all the numbers resulted in a “meets expectations” score for Morse’s first year.
This did not appear to meet the public’s expectations. Twelve people excoriated the board for not concluding that Morse had done an exceptional job in his first year. Several referred to the years of drift under a succession of town managers — there have been six in the last 10 years — and pointed to the ambitious agenda now underway, which includes a sewer expansion, a police station, and multiple housing measures. They also noted the town’s response to the pandemic.
The select board was divided, with Louise Venden arguing that the evaluation process was flawed. Select board member Leslie Sandberg said that the terms used might need to change and that the goals might have been too specific for the purpose of an annual review.
Select board chair Dave Abramson said he thought “meets expectations” was a good grade, in his experience, and the correct one in this case. Abramson also said that if Morse had spent as much time on the town’s compensation study as he had lobbying for his scores to be changed he might have had a better result.
Morse took exception to that remark, saying he had spent many hours on the compensation study and had not asked anyone to speak about his performance. Abramson would not take it back and responded, “I’m sorry, but that is my perception.”
At that point, Venden moved to give Morse a 4-percent raise for the coming year and be done with the evaluation. Board member John Golden seconded it, and Bobby Anthony voted for it; Sandberg paused and then voted in favor. After rereading the motion for clarity, Abramson also said “aye” and made the vote unanimous.