Sandy Hook resident Richard Fenaroli firmly believes an informed taxpayer will tend to be more involved in the budget process. To that end, he formally requested the Legislative Council act to publish the entire town roster of employees by name, the position they hold, and the gross amount of income and benefit costs of those employees to taxpayers.
He also requested that similar data be posted for all current town pensioners.
After some discussion among council members, First Selectman Pat Llodra, and Finance Director Robert Tait, a motion was approved unanimously taking most of Mr Fenaroli’s request into consideration.
On the council’s directive, Mr Tait will acquire the necessary functionality in the town’s payroll system so he can sort and format every town and school district employee by title, along with their gross pay and benefit costs.
He was also asked to create a way to break out instances where employee pay is offset by non-taxpayer sources like in situations where local police officers are compensated by contractors or utility companies at roadside construction sites.
Mr Fenaroli told the council that he gathered hundreds of signatures on a petition while attending a local sporting event and while standing in front of a busy local coffee shop, with the idea that it would show the council evidence of great public interest in the proposal.
But council members seemed amenable to the request, and did not appear to require reviewing the several pages of signatures Mr Fenaroli was prepared to present.
Council members, however, limited the scope of his request saying they would not include pensioners on the roster, and that they would only identify positions tied to annual payroll figures, and would not include the names of those employees on the list.
Mr Fenaroli said during a public comment section of the March 19 meeting that as he was discussing his idea with friends, neighbors, and those he approached for petition signatures, he heard from residents who were also interested to review how many town employees were related.
“I had one woman who signed the petition who wanted taxpayers to see how low one of her friends working for the town was being paid,” Mr Fenaroli told The Bee. He also said a comprehensive list would illustrate disparities between what town and school district workers were being paid for essentially the same jobs.
“My intention is to create more public involvement,” he said, adding that his hope would be to see that list available before the next budget referendum.
“Since salaries are so much a part of our budget, we need to put that in front of the people,” he said.
An initial motion by council Vice Chair Neil Chaudhary would have created a top 50 salaries list, but he said that he would prefer that information be posted on the town website, versus publishing it in the media.
“I think it’s important that the public have easy access [to the details],” he said.
Mrs Llodra said the material might also be published in the hard copy annual Town Report, which is statutorily required.
Council Chair Mary Ann Jacob said she felt it was most important to illustrate where the town is spending taxpayer money, and not as important to tie the amount being spent with the published names of those being paid.
She said it is about understanding the salaries of police officers and teachers, and “not making it about certain people who may not be making the decision about what their salaries are.”
Council representative Paul Lundquist questioned how many salaries would be left off the list if only the top 50 pay rates were published. Mrs Llodra clarified that the number including all school personnel would be upward of 900 persons.
Mr Lundquist then suggested the council either adopt an “all or nothing” approach to the concern.
Mr Tait said in anticipation of the council’s discussion, he ran a test using town software to run a preliminary top 50 list. The finance director also said having an entire database available would help provide context related to the costs for town employees in various positions versus cohorts in the private sector.
Ms Jacob noted that for those who really wanted the information, it was already accessible as public information, however, not in an easy to find and sort document.
Councilman Ryan Knapp then asked to amend the motion to open up the list to all town employees, and to identify all town payroll positions as well as additional information to help taxpayers better understand the information like the breakouts on utility payments for private duty police services.
Both the amendment and main motion were then unanimously approved. Mrs Llodra said she and Mr Tait would bring a draft of the list back for council review as soon as it can be accurately produced.
“We’ve got to make sure we do it right,” Mr Tait said.