NORTH SMITHFIELD – Members of the Town Council were not ready on Monday to ratify a three year contract with School Department support staff that was approved and signed by the school board in September.
The council held a public hearing on the agreement at their meeting on Monday, Dec. 2, part of a procedural approval dictated by the Town Charter.
But councilors, led by Terri Bartomioli, said they were concerned by the direction such contracts are headed.
“Municipal contracts are kind of exploding,” said Bartomioli. “We never seem to get anything back – it’s just more and more.”
“I have a hard time reimbursing on a $500 deductible when my insurance costs $1,800 for two people with a $6,000 deductible,” she added. “I just feel like we’re always giving, and negotiating is a give and take, so I struggle with that.”
The deal with the North Smithfield Association of Support Staff Personnel was approved unanimously by the school board on Monday Sept. 30, and would see pay rate increases for the employees totaling an average of around $30,000 per year. Supporters say it would include some concessions in areas such as health benefits.
The union represents roughly 50 district employees, including teacher assistants, custodians, clerks, and school secretaries. School Committee Chairman James Lombardi has said that the district would see a net impact of $67,419 in the first year of the contract, $48,780 in the second, and $52,393 in the third.
The impact is primarily the result of salary increases, which total 2 percent each year. The union’s previous three-year contract expired in June.
Town Council President Paul Vadenais agreed with Bartomioli’s assessment.
“It is getting out of control,” Vadenais said. “I think that we need to talk to them. ”
Resident Michael Clifford questioned if the contract had already been ratified, pointing out that Lombardi has already signed the deal.
“You didn’t follow the right process,” Clifford said. “Before that contract was signed, there should have been a fiscal impact statement reviewed by the Budget Committee and forwarded to the Town Council, and the public hearing should have been held with that fiscal impact statement available to the public.”
Vadenais noted that the contract is not in effect until it has been ratified by the council.
Clifford later told NRI NOW that he does not believe staff has been receiving benefits from the agreement, and that members of support staff have been very patient. His issue, he noted, is with the process used, and the fact the document has already been signed.
Clifford also took issue with the fact that the fiscal impact statement had not been posted on the town website, and at least some councilors agreed.
“”I’m a little taken aback that it wasn’t posted to the town website,” said Councilor Paul Zwolenski. “It should be 24/7 access.
“I agree,” said Councilor Douglas Osier. “This is 2019. This isn’t 1950 anymore. People are living on their smart phones. They’re going to search for that information online. I think we should go above and beyond to make the information available to the constituents out there.”
Vadenais pointed out that a posting on the website is not required by charter.
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t post it,” he said.
Bartomioli asked if the council could meet with the School Committee to discuss the agreement, but Town Solicitor David Igliozzi said the council’s only job was to either ratify or reject the document.
“It’s supposed to be up or down,” Igliozzi said. “This isn’t your negotiation.”
The board declined to approve or reject the document, voting unanimously to instead continued the public hearing.
“The council and the School Committee need to sit down and discuss where the contracts are going,” said Bartomioli.
“We’ll reach out to them,” said Vadenais.