Select Board denies raise for Hurd
Editor's note: This article was modified on Jan. 19, 2018, to correct the town clerk's salary after a raise. The town clerk's salary will be $84,484.
BENNINGTON — For the first time in at least four years, the Select Board has voted against giving Town Manager Stuart Hurd a raise.
The decision was made during the board's budget work session on Saturday, five days after Hurd made a public apology before the board for moving forward with the construction of a new salt shed without waiting for the required environmental permit. Neither board Chairman Tom Jacobs nor Hurd would say whether the denial of the raise was in any way connected with the salt shed issue.
"I can only indicate the board voted for no increase," Jacobs said on Tuesday. He said he "is not comfortable in stating the reason for the board's decision."
Hurd, in response to a question from the Banner on Tuesday, said: "The reasons are a personnel issue and discussed in executive session."
As a result of the board's action, Hurd's annual salary will remain at $108,472 when fiscal 2019 begins on July 1. Board members set that salary last January for the current fiscal year. It was an increase of about 2 percent, or $2,170. Board members approved 2 percent pay increases for the town manager in January 2016 and 2015, according to board minutes.
The board on Saturday did approve 2 percent raises for Town Clerk Cassandra Barbeau and Treasurer Joan Pinsonnault. The town clerk's salary will increase by $1,705.60 to $84,484, and the treasurer's salary will increase by $282 to $14,422.80.
The full board is expected to formally approve the fiscal 2019 municipal budget at its regularly scheduled meeting Monday night.
On Jan.8, Hurd told the Select Board of how he had ordered construction of a new, $425,000 sand and salt shed on Bowen Road to begin without waiting for the required wetlands permit, and made a public apology for his decision. "I made it on my own volition without the board's knowledge or consent, and I apologize to the board and the community," he said during public session.
"We were quite disappointed to understand that this activity was undertaken without our participating in the process," Jacobs said after Hurd read the statement. "This is a type of management that's foreign to us. We recognize pretty high standards and we expect management to meet and exceed those standards. In this case, it didn't happen."
"We have a very good project completed," Jacobs said. "But unfortunately, it wasn't done consistent with requirements of law." He pointed out that the decision was made without the involvement of the board.
At the time, Jacobs said that the board would address the issue in executive session as a personnel matter. The board did enter executive session that night, but did not reconvene.
The Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) issued the wetlands permit on Jan. 3, months after construction began on the 6,400-square-foot salt shed. The director of the Department of Environmental Conservation's Environmental Compliance Division confirmed last week that an investigation is underway into the town's decision to move forward without the permit.
Under DEC's administrative penalty rules, the maximum penalty for a single violation, or a group of violations treated as one, is up to $42,500.
Hurd explained on Jan. 8 that he took a gamble by authorizing construction of the salt shed to begin, believing the necessary permit would be received in time. ANR approval was required because about 60 percent of the structure lies within a 50-foot buffer zone along Furnace Brook and its tributaries.
"We were told a technical review would begin soon. We thought a draft permit was imminent," he said at the time. "Unfortunately, it was not." He said he was concerned that by waiting, the town would have lost some "very competitive bids" that saved between $60,000 and $70,000, and that the project would have been set back several months, probably resulting in higher costs.
Hurd said the construction followed conditions set in the permit, which includes a water quality monitoring plan.
Voters in March 2017 approved a $3.2 million bond to purchase the former Plasan North America site at 78 Bowen Road under a plan to redevelop the building as a new public works facility. Part of that plan was to build a new 80-by-80 foot shed to store sand and salt, road materials that have been kept at an aging facility on Orchard Road.
Ed Damon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @edamon_banner on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 111.
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