Conservation Agent’s Salary Lowered ˗ Again

Tuesday July 09, 2024

GEORGETOWN – The town’s Conservation Agent, which reports to the Conservation Commission, is being paid even less than she thought. Michele Grenier’s contracted salary when she started with this town is now $49,000 instead of $65,000.

For weeks, Grenier, an experienced and well-educated town official, has been at odds with Town Administrator Orlando Pacheco, who insisted two weeks ago that she was contracted to work for the town for 24 hours, not 32 hours as her contract letter states.

Signed by Pacheco on Nov. 20, 2023, the letter states: “I am pleased to offer you the position of Conservation Agent in the Conservation Commission Office. We would like to have you start on Monday, November 27, 2023. The job will be allocated 32 hours per week with an annual salary of $65,000.”

Eight of her 32 hours were to be allocated to the town of Essex, according to Pacheco’s letter. Essex was supposed to reimburse Georgetown for her hours on Tuesdays, but backed out of the arrangement.

There was no provision if Essex did not employ Grenier. Her salary of $65,000 was dropped to $54,000 when Essex withdrew.

Then, at the Special Town Meeting, called last month to cut expenses due to the town’s budget’s $3 million shortfall, Grenier’s salary was lowered to $49,000 annually.

“Orlando cut mine down to $49,000 without telling anyone, just snuck it in the town meeting budget, I did not know, the Conservation (Commission) did not know,” she wrote in an email. “Everyone else received a 3 percent raise,” she wrote.

Pacheco disagreed. “Her salary was not cut by the Town of Georgetown, in fact, she like all employees was given a 2 percent cost of living increase. She is still budgeted the 24 hours a week she was originally hired for. The Town of Essex did not choose to retain her, but it would be untruthful to say the town of Georgetown cut her.”

Carl Shreder, who resigned under pressure from Pacheco and the previous SelectBoard shortly after negotiating her contract, wrote in an email: “The job was originally advertised for 32 hours/week in Georgetown. (Her predecessor) Steve (Przyjemski) was a 40-hour employee. I cut the job to 32 given the politics from Pacheco/BOS. Pacheco modified the position when on-boarding the agent.”

Having an agent work for the Georgetown ConComm for 24 hours a week “was never discussed with me or the commission,” Shreder wrote.

“Essex was not part of the formula,” Shreder wrote. “I was aware that Essex was looking for assistance (my temp agent John Lopez had let me know). A few towns were looking for assistance. Neither I nor the commission ever spoke to Essex.”

Grenier’s salary was based on a survey of other towns, Shreder said. The hourly rate was within an acceptable range in the survey and slightly lower than Przyjemski’s salary. The ConComm had a 40-hour agent and a part-time administrative assistant.

In addition, the town administrator “cut $16,000 from the Conservation bylaw fee budget, which needs permission from the commission and cannot for use of the general budget,” Grenier wrote.

Under Massachusetts law, the ConComm functions more auto-nomously than other boards, reporting on many issues to the Department of Environmental Protection.

To cut the town’s budget, the finance committee eliminated the administrative assistant positions for the ConComm, the planning and health departments.

Harry LaCortiglia, the Planning Board chair, wrote that his board had no input on the reduction in staff. “We were aware that the elimination of the Admin Position would be necessary to balance the budget without the override. A formal vote was never taken by the Planning Board, nor would it be required.”

The Planning Board staff salaries were cut from $130,701 this year to $91,800 for next year.

“The Finance Committee and the Finance Director (the position filled by the Town Administrator) make these recommendations to Town Meeting,” LaCortiglia wrote.

It was noted by several town volunteers that while some critical boards like conservation, health and planning, which have broad responsibilities for governing the town, had their staffs reduced, but the Town Administrator and his staff had an increase in salaries and expenses.

Under the SelectBoard category, salaries for those positions will rise from $218,000 this year to $228,760. That is a reduction from the annual Town Meeting, which agreed to pay salaries for the SelectBoard staff of $235,280.

Expenses also increased from $885,675 this year to $921,016.


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