Canterbury debates pay, raises at outdoor Town Meeting

  • More than 100 citizens sat outside in a tent for 90 minutes Saturday for Town Meeting. Ray Duckler—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/1/2021 3:40:19 PM

Canterbury residents showed grit Saturday morning at their Town Meeting, which was postponed in March because of COVID and held near a ball field outside the town’s elementary school.

More than 100 citizens sat in folding chairs under a wind-whipped three-ring circus-sized tent as papers blew through the air and microphones occasionally quit working.

During 90 chilly minutes, the town expanded on two distinct topics: Raises for town employees and raises for anyone earning less than $14.99 an hour.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars were approved for new police and fire department vehicles, but not even that was able to grab the spotlight.

Both issues surfaced from Article 6, the town’s $2.85 million operating budget, which is less than 1% below last year’s budget.

Questions centered around why Town Administrator Ken Folsom was due a healthy raise, from $47,840 to $55,000. Resident Adrienne Hutchinson wondered why personnel from safety and maintenance areas received far less of a pay hike than Folsom.

“As I was sitting here doing the math and our town administrator line is in fact 15%,” Hutchinson said. “But police, the highway (department) and solid waste are getting between 2% and 3% wages increases, and those are the boots-on-the-ground people.

“You went ahead and thanked them for their service,” Hutchinson continued, “dealing with our trash and our roads and our emergencies during this crisis, but that does not appear to be reflected in the wage increases.”

Select Board member Bob Steenson said Folsom’s salary was fair and needed context. He said even with the raise, Folsom’s pay would remain lower than most salaries in other towns.

“We do feel like the compensation of the hourly and the town employees is generally speaking in line with (the) market,” Steenson said, “and that we approach it every year with a performance-based evaluation.”

An amendment was proposed, raising the operating budget by $5,000, money that would go toward bigger pay hikes to individuals in various departments.

The amendment failed, and the original budget passed.

That debate led seamlessly into the recent effort to raise the minimum wage to $15.

Republicans worry small businesses will be forced to lay off workers, while Democrats believe the hike will stimulate the economy with more buying power.

In this case, town officials were asked which town-related positions pay at least $15 while several residents spoke in favor of a higher minimum wage.

One was high-profile liberal Arnie Alpert, who retired last year from the American Friends Service Committee and spent more than four decades peacefully fighting for civil rights.

“Would you be able to estimate,” Alpert asked, “how much it would cost the town if everybody in town made at least $15 an hour?”

“Off of (the top of) my head, Arnie, no,” Steenson answered.

Alpert’s concern coincided with the gathering of 10 New Hampshire lawmakers Saturday, who were scheduled to visit the downtown offices of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, showing their support to raise the minimum wage to $15 for restaurant workers who have always relied on tips.

The largest expenditure the town agreed to was banking $173,000 into nine capital reserve funds, including $50,000 for a fire truck.

That led voters to question how many miles the town’s police and fire departments’ vehicles have.

Officials said that for safety reasons, emergency vehicles needed to be replaced more often than everyday cars.

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