GOULDSBORO — In a few small Hancock County towns, town clerks still do it all. They balance the books, collect property taxes, register voters, hold elections, license dogs and many other administrative tasks. Nowadays, though, town managers or administrative assistants focus on growing municipal issues such as health, solid waste and infrastructure and manage staff who handle day-to-day functions in more than half of the 37 communities stretching from Verona Island to Great Pond.
Gouldsboro has followed that pattern since the 2015 retirement of former Town Manager Eve Wilkinson, who served for 18 years and “did all these things for a small amount of money,” Board of Selectmen Chairman Dana Rice noted last Thursday night. Since then, the town has had three town managers and is now searching for a fourth to succeed Andrea Sirois, who was hired in June of 2020. On March 23, she informed the board of her intent not to renew her contract this June.
In light of Sirois’s looming departure, and the need to launch a formal search, selectmen unanimously agreed to contract with the Maine Municipal Association (MMA) to solicit, receive, sift through and identify suitable applicants with the level of experience and qualifications sought by the board. They also approved MMA’s quote of $6,400 to do that job. That figure does not include the cost of advertising or potential travel expenses of out-of-state candidates for in-person interviews.
At present, Sirois earns $52,000 annually. Superintendent of Infrastructure Jim McLean is paid $49,960. The town also has a part-time treasurer, Aleta Fusco, on staff at a current cost of $16,640 annually. She is being paid on an hourly basis. An estimated $8,640 is being budgeted for tax-collection services for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
In the board’s experience, in several previous town-manager searches, Rice said at least half of the potential candidates sought an annual salary starting at $80,000. He noted this caliber of applicants, who possess sufficient experience in municipal administration, typically balk if the pay is any less and don’t pursue an interview. Nowadays, he added, serious contenders also don’t expect to be treasurer and tax collector and carry out some everyday transactions as part of the job. “They aren’t ready to do it and they haven’t done it in the past,” he said.
He said selectmen need to float an $80,000 to $100,000 salary range in their search in order to get a decent field of professionals to interview and flexibility to negotiate with them.
“What we have budgeted in the past, you can discard at least half of the applicants,” Rice said. “I wouldn’t go a cent less than $80,000.”
Overall, over the last five years, Budget Chairman Dwight Rodgers noted the town’s general administration costs have steadily risen. He acknowledged that Schoodic EMS’s establishment and associated costs and the infrastructure superintendent’s position account for much of that increase but questioned what the town manager’s job now entails when bookkeeping and tax collection functions are being farmed out.
“You’ve got all these parts and pieces that have been taken away from the town manager,” Rodgers pointed out. He also asked if a town manager’s position description had been written to reflect those changes.
Rice reiterated that the town office staff’s reorganization has been evolving for several years and sees returning to the old ways as unrealistic in today’s world.
“We have had a lot of turnover in the last few years, and I am comfortable with the duties being spread out,” he said.
As a compromise, selectmen agreed to recommend budgeting up to $80,000 for the town manager’s position in the 2021-22 budget. They also recommended raising an additional $20,000 in a warrant article, which would be voted on at Town Meeting, to give the board greater latitude in its salary negotiations with candidates in upcoming months. If unneeded, those funds would go back into the surplus account for reallocation. The proposed 2021-22 budget is still being finalized.
On the budgetary front, selectmen agreed to recommend that the town budget for a police chief and two full-time reserve officers. They said one of the positions could always be reconfigured into two part-timers depending on the town’s needs.
In other business, selectmen accepted Fire Chief Tate McLean’s recommendation that the town set aside $10,000 annually for the reroofing of fire stations 2 and 3 over a four-year period. He said Station 2 would be done first and suggested steel roofs for both structures. The funds will be earmarked and go into the Building and Grounds reserve account.
The fire chief also reported that the Engine 3 fire truck’s malfunctioning pump gear was fixed by Colwell Diesel Service.