Chilmark fire chief David Norton took a little heat of a different kind on Tuesday night, as he pushed his case with selectmen for a pay raise of more than 50 per cent.
Mr. Norton’s current stipend is $21,000. He wanted it upped to $33,000. And that figure, he suggested, was giving the town a discount.
When the personnel board looked at his case, he said, they “went through their steps to figure out where I stood, from my job description, they told me I was at Grade 12, the highest you could go. Basically that’s $33.23 an hour a figure of over $38,000.”
But he had requested only $33,000, figuring that was “a fair assumption of what I do for this town” in a job that is “not quite” a full-time position.
The selectmen, though, were not going for it. And so the scene was set for a 20-minute discussion — at times it bordered on argument — about what a fire chief was worth.
And the brief prepared by the personnel board, comparing the pay rates and conditions of fire chiefs in other Island towns, only added more points of contention because of the wide differences in pay rates — they range from $12,000 to $52,000 — conditions and departmental structures.
No town other than Chilmark, for example, provides health coverage for its chief, a situation selectman Frank Fenner found “amazing.”
Other towns have two or three assistant chiefs to share the load, whereas Mr. Norton was, as he put it, “a one-man wrecking crew up here.”
Mr. Norton gets to keep the approximately $4,000 he receives each year for doing inspections, while other towns take that money for themselves. Other towns provide vehicles, whereas Mr. Norton has to use his own truck. On each issue there was point and counterpoint from the chief and selectmen.
The subject of the truck proved particularly contentious. Mr. Norton considered he was not adequately compensated “when the majority of the mileage is for the town.”
Selectman Warren Doty: “But we pay you 50 cents a mile.”
Mr. Norton: “Fifty cents a mile, Mr. Doty, covers just the gas.”
Mr. Doty: “No it doesn’t.
Mr. Norton: “Yes, it does.”
The contradiction went on, with Mr. Doty calculating that even if Mr. Norton only got 15 miles a gallon from his truck, that still amounted to a fuel cost of just 30 cents a mile, leaving him with 20 cents to cover insurance, registration, tires and wear and tear.
The chief countered that he often ran the engine while stationary, carried heavy loads of equipment and personnel, and towed weights of up to 10,000 pounds, which increased consumption.
Plus there was an unusual amount of wear and tear from unsealed roads, and “Chilmark pin-striping” from the undergrowth.
The debate might have gone on, but Mr. Doty cut it off with: “I can tell already, we’re not going to make you happy. I can see that already. But what we’re going to do is give you a car allowance of 50 cents a mile.”
The subject shifted to what Mr. Norton’s real current rate of compensation was.
Mr. Fenner added up the numbers.
“This current year the stipend is $21,000. Also, as you mentioned, you run around a lot and you do inspections. Well, the reality is in the average year you make a little over $4,000. So that $21,000 is now 25-something.”
When the $6,400 value of the health coverage and $6,600 in fuel allowance were added in, Mr. Fenner said, “we’re up already, without an increase, at $37,000 to $38,000 dollars. And it’s a lot of money.”
Mr. Norton didn’t think so. The real reason his requested pay raise looked so big, he suggested, was that “I’ve worked too cheap for too long.”
Eventually, the two sides argued themselves to a compromise — a $6,000 pay raise, which Mr. Doty called “an extraordinary increase in a government job.”
And that is what will go now to town meeting for approval.
In other business, the selectmen heard a presentation from shellfish constable Isaiah Scheffer on a particularly good season for propagation.
Oysters in particular had done well, through a combination of raising and distributing hatchery seed stock and natural propagation.
“Basically all of Tisbury Great Pond had this amazing seed set. Everything was covered with seed,” Mr. Scheffer said.
Assuming no major disease problems, there would be good oystering for several years.
About a million seed scallops and a similar number quahaugs also had been distributed.
Mr. Scheffer said he believed also that a trapping program aimed at reducing the numbers of introduced green crabs appeared to be “breaking their breeding cycle.”
There was, however, a problem with sea ducks eating large numbers of seed scallops.
“What we need is more hunters,” Mr. Scheffer said.