While Westport’s Board of Finance passed a proposed $76.59 million operating budget for 2014-15 Tuesday evening, some hesitated how that money should be spent, particularly when it comes to hiring.
“All of us are concerned about adding bodies unless its absolutely necessary” said board member Michael Rea.
Westport’s economy is bustling in some ways: There’s new construction, more home sales and an increasing amount of town-held events – all requiring more attention and work by the local government. The Health District’s Marc Cooper noted those increases during Tuesday’s meeting, while asking to beef up his department with one extra full-time worker.
“I need to make sure our inspections are getting done,” explained Cooper. “To make sure what’s getting done in Westport is the best possible work we can get.”
Currently, the Westport-Weston Health District relies heavily upon independent contractors. Following the economic downturn, the department slashed its workforce, leaving it with two full-time employees. The department made up for the lack of salaried employees with independent contractors, but Cooper said environmental work is now at a “record high”.
“If something goes wrong there are liabilities there,” he said. “I need to make sure the plan reviews are getting done as best as they can - as accurately as possible.” Cooper said full-time workers bring a higher level of dedication, regulatory knowledge and expertise that other workers do not offer.
The Board of Finance hesitated in the permanent hire. Board Member Lee Caney noted that independent contractors kept the town from adding another person to the payroll. Thomas Lasersohn highlighted the flexibility that accompanies an independent contractor:
“I’m reluctant to meet short term needs when those needs aren’t going to be continued,” Lasersohn said.
The Health Services Department’s budget is currently $529,263 and Cooper is looking to increase the amount by $38,865 or 7.9 percent. But, the net cost to Westport of an additional employee is really around $25,000 considering a partial share with Weston, and reduced over-time pay for other employees with a new hire in the mix.
The measure passed 6-1 with Caney as the main dissenter.
The Board of Finance will now consider the Board of Education's proposed budget in a meeting Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Town Hall.