Edgartown Weighs Merits of Water Contract Request
By JAMES KINSELLA
Edgartown water superintendent Fred Domont earlier this year sought a salary of $100,000, but saw his request rejected by the board of selectmen.
The Edgartown board of water commissioners, the elected board to which Mr. Domont reports, backed the salary request, which would have represented an increase of almost 40 per cent from his current pay.
The selectmen, however, declined to approve the request. At the April 11 annual town meeting, Edgartown residents are scheduled to vote on an annual town budget that lists Mr. Domont's salary at $72,238.
Meeting participants also are scheduled to vote on a proposed cost of living adjustment that would increase the salary of town employees, including Mr. Domont, by another 4.2 per cent. That possible increase, and a $1,450 stipend for longevity, would increase his salary in the coming fiscal year to $76,723, according to Edgartown personnel board figures.
Mr. Domont said Wednesday that his experience, his licenses and the salaries provided to other water supervisors on Martha's Vineyard qualify him for a higher salary and for a management contract.
The question of fair compensation for water works supervisors on the Island has been in the spotlight since the Tisbury selectmen two weeks ago challenged the legality of the multi-year contracts for the supervisors of the Oak Bluffs and Tisbury water systems. The selectmen raised concerns about the high-priced compensation packages and about the supervisors working under contract rather than the town personnel bylaw.
Deacon Perrotta, the water superintendent for both the Oak Bluffs Water District and the Tisbury Water Works, receives a combined annual salary from the two districts of $100,000. So does Lois Norton, the water systems administrator for both operations.
A survey by the Vineyard Gazette of nine water operations on the Cape and Islands (treating the Tisbury and Oak Bluffs operations as a combined operation) showed that Mr. Perrotta and Ms. Norton received the highest salaries of any water supervisor.
Both Ms. Norton and Mr. Perrotta work under management contracts, unlike Mr. Domont, whose position as a department head is included under the Edgartown personnel bylaw.
The Tisbury board of selectmen recently said they were unaware of the size of the salaries paid to Mr. Perrotta and Ms. Norton. Under the contracts, Tisbury and Oak Bluffs each contribute $50,000 to each salary.
The chairman of the Tisbury board of selectmen, Raymond LaPorte, said the contract, which was signed by the Tisbury board of water commissioners, was unenforceable. The selectmen say they, not the commissioners, have the authority to determine the terms of employment of water works employees. The Tisbury water commissioners have referred the matter to their attorney for review.
The Tisbury selectmen said the salaries were drawn to their attention by an inquiry about a month ago from the town of Edgartown about water department salaries. Mr. Domont has said that neither he nor any employee of the Edgartown water department made that inquiry.
Mr. Domont and the Edgartown water commissioners discussed his proposed $100,000 salary in an executive session last Nov. 29.
The commissioners then supported the salary request before the board of selectmen on Jan. 3 as part of a proposed $1,124,497 annual budget request for the water department.
According to the minutes of that Jan. 3 meeting with the selectmen, the chairman of the water commissioners, Robert L. Burnham, said the commissioners still were working on the budget and planned to resolve salary proposals in executive session.
But the chairman of the board of selectmen, Arthur Smadbeck, questioned whether such a discussion in executive session would be legal. Town administrator Pamela Dolby said she had discussed the issue with town counsel, who had informed her that the law would prohibit such a discussion in executive session.
Selectman Margaret E. Serpa said the water commissioners should go through the personnel board on the issue and that she favored using current personnel board figures for water department salaries.
Mr. Smadbeck agreed. According to the minutes, he said that "a 30 per cent to 40 per cent increase in salary has to be worked out by the personnel board, that the water commission cannot unilaterally take it out of the jurisdiction of the personnel board."
Based on the water department budget drafted last December, only Mr. Domont's proposed salary increase would fall into that range among the water department employees.
Since that Jan. 3 meeting, the water commissioners have yet to meet with the personnel board on any water department salary issues.
Water commissioner William R. Erickson said Wednesday that the proposed salary was fair compensation for Mr. Domont. Mr. Erickson said the water commission needs to compensate Mr. Domont for the higher cost of living on the Vineyard. Also, should Mr. Domont leave, Mr. Erickson said the commission would have to offer a salary in the $100,000 range to attract a comparable supervisor.
But water commissioner John S. Lovewell was less supportive. While he said Wednesday that he went along with his fellow water commissioners on this issue, he also said he believes Mr. Domont is paid plenty at his current salary.
Mr. Lovewell also said the commissioners and Mr. Domont have yet to discuss a contract for the supervisor in any detail. "The contract was not the issue," Mr. Lovewell said. "The money was the issue."
Robert Burnham, chairman of the water commission, was off-Island this week and could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Erickson said Wednesday the water commissioners have not worked out what action they'll take in the future regarding increases in Mr. Domont's salary.
Mr. Domont has said a contract would be advantageous both to the Edgartown board of water commissioners and to him.
While Mr. Domont acknowledged that a contract likely would give him more protection, he also said it could be structured to give him incentives for better performance and restrict compensation for less satisfactory performance.
He said he would like to receive a higher salary for a number of reasons: that he is one of the most experienced water superintendents on the Cape and Islands; that he has licenses to run any water operation in the state; and that he has 28 years of experience in the water field.
Further, he said he essentially is running three companies for the town: a municipal water supply, a construction company and a capital projects company.
At present, Mr. Domont said, his compensation is comparable to 1956 levels, adjusted for inflation. Yet, he said, the amount of work and required training and education is much higher.
"You have to look at what the economy is," Mr. Domont said about the cost of living on the Vineyard. "Traditionally, the Vineyard always paid less and cost more. Maybe someday, we'll break even."