Prior to its vote to finalize the 2013-2014 town budget tonight at the Lapham Center, the New Canaan Town Council is expected to set the salary for the town clerk, an elected position which is due for a cost of living increase.
Last Wednesday the Town Council held a lengthy discussion regarding the formula that should be used for setting the town clerk's salary — a change that would not take effect until the next term beginning Jan. 1, 2014 and running through Jan. 1 2016.
The salary, which is also subject to review by the Board of Finance, needs to be set within the 2013-2014 town budget, however, so that it is established prior to the municipal election in November. This is required under state election law so that whoever runs for the seat knows what the salary is ahead of time. The set salary must then remain in place for the remainder of the two-year term.
During the meeting, current Town Clerk Claudia Weber gave an overview of the position, including how the town clerk's duties have increased and become more complex over the years.
"As local government has grown in responsibility and importance, so has the role of the town clerk," Weber said, adding that the town clerk's role is to "execute and implement the duties as prescribed by the Connecticut General Statutes, state regulations and Town Charter in an efficient and impartial manner, and in doing so to manage protect and preserve the permanent records of the town for both present and future generations."
"The town clerk is considered to be the secretary of the municipal corporation and plays a very important role in the checks and balances of local government," she said.
Weber said the position "has evolved considerably" since she was first elected in 1997.
"Back in the day, the town clerk recorded deeds and mortgages; issued birth, marriage and death certificates; assisted in the administration of elections; administered the absentee ballot process; and issued a variety of permits and licenses," she said, adding that most of this work was done manually. "Prior to the year 2000, there was no word processing, no Excel, no Powerpoint, no scanning, no email, and the town clerk's office only managed the records of two boards and commissions. Even so at that time there were more than 528 references to state statutes directing town clerks as to what they could, should and would do."
Weber said town clerk's office reports to multiple state agencies, including the Secretary of the State, State Elections Enforcement Commission, Freedom of Information Commission, Department of Revenue Services, the State Library and Archives, Office of the Public Records Administrator, Department of Public Health, Department of Agriculture and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
"Today the town clerk is responsible for managing the records of 40 boards and commissions; has undertaken the administration of the town code; and is involved in a major re-codification project," she said. In addition the department is involved in "an ongoing project to scan every document that requires permanent retention," as well as the creation of "the first record management program for the town of New Canaan." This includes moving all documents in the department to online.
When asked whether her office has added any new positions since she was elected, Weber replied that the department has had the same number of hours budgeted since her predecessor was in office. She said the department currently has two part time and two full time employees, in addition to herself, yet it takes in more than $7 million in fees and other revenue annually for the town.
Weber said despite new technology which has been introduced over the years the workload in the department is only increasing, as the town clerk continues to "play a larger role in records management." She said "volume has increased substantially."
Town Council member Penny Young asked if there was any way to break down how much of the town clerk's tasks and duties are driven by state statute — to which Weber said "more than 90 percent... almost everything we do is somehow dictated by state statute."
Following Weber's presentation, Town Council Vice Chairman Stephen Karl reminded that what the Council was voting on was the town clerk's salary, not Weber's salary, based on her performance.
"This is for the position of town clerk — it''s not about the current town clerk and the great job that she is doing," Karl said, adding that it can be "difficult to separate the personality" from the position.
Town Council member Roger Williams said he would prefer to see the town clerk's salary tied to the CPI cost of living index, which is currently around 1.7%.
However several other town council members including John Emert, Christine Hussey and Kit Deveraux, said they thought the only fair way to set it was to use the same formula used to determine the wage increases for other non-union town employees.
Williams, however, pointed out that those are "negotiated" wage increases, and therefore not applicable to an elected position. He pointed out that the town clerk's salary can't be negotiated because "it is elected and therefore has no job description."
"The town clerk is different from a town department head," Williams said, "because it is an elected position — and in essence it comes with a guarantee of two years of employment."
"Conversely you could argue that every two years they have to earn their job back," he added. "But it's not subject to any downsizing in government. There are positives and negatives on both side of the issue, but it is different enough, in that it is elected, that you could look at it differently.
Williams said in his opinion, tying the salary to the CPI "doesn't put it in that much of a disadvantage compared to what the rest of the town gets. In fact it may be an advantage."
Town Council Chairman Mark DeWaele said he would confer with town counsel Ira Bloom this week to determine the recommended formula for setting the salary. He said the Town Council could approve one of three methods: tie the salary to a formula; tie it to the CPI; or simply set the salary for next two years.
As part of its due diligence on the matter the Council requested and received a comparison of town clerk's salaries in other towns. However DeWaele pointed out that it is very difficult to compare, as the duties vary from town to town and some positions are elected.
The Town Council is also scheduled to vote on the proposed $132 million town budget (including the proposed 2013-2014 school budget of $78.7 million), an increase of 5.61%, at its meeting tonight, April 9, at the Lapham Center.
To download a PDF of the Board of Finance's proposed budget, click here.