Selectboard amends cost of living adjustment policy

The Charlotte Selectboard is still working to satisfy budget-conscious voters who, earlier this year, objected — both verbally and at the ballot box — to the growing cost of the town’s workforce.

With a lack of consensus having delayed a plan to trim municipal employees’ health benefits, the discussion moved, more recently, to the question of their wages and especially to their annual cost-of-living adjustments.

Selectboard member Lewis Mudge presented a draft revision of the town’s salary administration policy on Monday, Dec. 11. Before Mudge’s edits, the document instructed the board to use the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers for the Northeast Region to ensure that municipal salaries kept pace with inflation.

“I felt that our staff policy was too prescriptive for the selectboard and didn’t give enough leeway to the selectboard in adjusting COLA,” Mudge said.

Under Mudge’s changes, the document will no longer require the selectboard to apply a cost-of-living adjustment when setting salary expenditures in its budget proposal for the subsequent fiscal year. Instead, it “may” do so, and if it does, it may use an index of its own choosing or “a variety of processes” to determine the size of the adjustment.

Mudge also made additions to the policy language that structures the discretionary salary increases that town employees may receive on the basis of performance and other factors unrelated to inflation. The revision emphasizes that such increases are “not mandatory” and should depend “first and foremost” on “the fiscal health of the town.”

Margaret Woodruff, the director of the Charlotte Public Library, asked the board to keep in mind the particular importance of COLA for municipal employees who don’t receive health or retirement benefits. Mudge stressed that the changes, while offering flexibility, would not necessarily result in a reduced or eliminated COLA.

“This is, for the moment, really a policy decision,” Mudge said. “We will get to those difficult decisions and conversations on the numbers quite soon.”

After minor modifications, the board unanimously approved the new policy.

“I think it is a good potential change for us, in terms of just allowing us to do what the citizens ask, which is to be more mindful of the cost of employment,” selectboard member Kelly Devine said before the vote. “Our payroll, I think, is approaching a million dollars a year, so it’s not an insignificant portion of our budget.”

New appointee to join development review board

Charlotte’s development review board will welcome a fresh face at its next meeting: Brandon Tieso, a 2015 graduate of Champlain Valley Union High School who returned to Charlotte after earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts.

Tieso will replace Christina Asquith, who did not seek a second term.

“I’m new to trying to help out my town. I have more free time,” Tieso said in a public interview. “I find that this place has made my life growing up here quite special, and I would like to have other people see those same opportunities.”

Tieso beat out Bill Stuono for the two-year appointment on Monday, Dec. 11. Stuono, a former member of the Charlotte Planning Commission, previously served on development review boards in Shelburne and South Burlington and holds a master’s degree in planning and policy.

Selectboard member Frank Tenney’s motion to appoint Stuono, however, received only two yes votes: his own and Louise McCarren’s. Jim Faulkner subsequently moved, successfully, to appoint Tieso.

Kelly Devine had not yet joined the meeting, and Lewis Mudge, who had missed the board’s interviews with the candidates last month, sat out both votes.

Tieso acknowledged his inexperience in municipal government, but he pointed to the comparably technical nature of his job at an investment advisory firm, where he manages operations and compliance.

“I’m intimately familiar with federal securities regulations,” Tieso said. “I am extremely astute. I love to read. I find the boring interesting.”

Tieso’s résumé also highlighted experience as a radio producer, a private investigator and an intern at the Vermont State’s Attorneys Office. While he promised to administer Charlotte’s land-use regulations as written, he expressed a personal preference for maintaining what he called the town’s “rural character.”

“I’m not going to impart my own particular vision on things, but I think it’s important that the town grows consistent with the town plan and in a measured capacity,” Tieso said. “I’m not a big fan of seeing what’s happening up and down Shelburne Road, and we’re just south of that.”

Alexa Lewis, a current member of the development review board, applied for reappointment and received a three-year term.

The selectboard also filled two of the three vacancies on the Charlotte Recreation Commission. Here, too, Tieso had volunteered, alongside Maura Wygmans.