By Carley Dangona
WEST SPRINGFIELD – An appropriation to pay the numerous medical bills of the Police Department (PD) and the issue of the low salary for the Clerk of the Council were the main topics at the Town Council meeting on Feb. 24.
At its latest meeting, the council approved $30,000 for the PD, which is facing mounting medical costs due to 16 officers out with on-the-job injuries and an appropriation of $270,000 for the Department of Public Works (DPW) to fund its exhausted snow and ice removal account. Ward 2 Councilor Lida Powell initiated a discussion regarding the salary of council clerk Sue Pettazzoni.
“This year’s sort of been an aberration in that we have an inordinate amount of officers that have been hurt,” Chief Ronald Campurciani said, noting that since the fiscal year began in July 2013, 16 officers have been injured. “This is a line item in the past years that has not been touched,” he said.
Ten of the officers are still out either awaiting surgery or undergoing rehabilitation. The chief explained that the return of those officers is “up in the air” because it depends on the healing process that varies for each individual.
Campurciani told the council that there is a “strong likelihood” that he will again have to go before the council for additional funds, but that the $30,000 was an amount he could request in “good faith” given the current amount of outstanding bills.
He advised the councilors that the department is doing its best to accommodate the staffing shortage. He said the absences are compounded by the fact PD retirements. One officer retired in January and two more are expected to do so within the next two months.
Campurciani commented that a “full compliment” of 73 officers is now reduced to a force of 68 officers. We can only do so much with the numbers we have right now,” he said.
At-large Councilor George Kelly addressed the DPW’s need for additional funds. He read a statement from DPW Director Rob Colson that stated, “This has been a very unusual winter. It not only has caused us some nightmares in the plowing of the streets of West Springfield, but it’s also contributing to the great amount of road destruction we have from the snow and ice that is at an unusual level.”
Kelly described ice melt and salt supplies as “scarce.”
Council Vice President Brian Griffin said, “That is the only account in the town that can deficit spend.”
Kelly explained that the account is generally funded in the budget at half of its need because if unused, it would have to remain in the account, eventually becoming free cash at the end of the fiscal year.
“This is a more economical way of approaching the snow and ice plowing,” he said.
Powell commented on the fact that when compared to the administrative salaries of other town department, the council clerk is underpaid.
“We should be ashamed of ourselves at what our own clerk gets,” she said. “She’s doing above and beyond her job.”
Kelly commented, “The position is not at all compensated as similar positions. We’re way out of whack on this. I would wholeheartedly agree with Councilor Powell.”
Kelly also said that the job description for the position needs to be updated to reflect the actual job duties of it.
Powell compared the clerk’s salary of $37,350 (plus a stipend) to the administrative assistants of the Planning Department, DPW and the mayor’s office who make $45,000 (plus a stipend), $54,000 and $55,800 respectively. She added that Sandra MacFadyen, the director of the Human Resources Department, earns $94,000 annually.
The councilors agreed to discuss the matter with the mayor to see if that fact can be remedied within the upcoming budget.