Finance board approves raises, but emphasizes efficiency 

WESTPORT — Townside efficiency was talked about several items at Wednesday night’s Board of Finance meeting, which included a presentation on potentially combining some school and town costs.

“The point that I hope to make here is that we are working together,” said Sarah Harris, operations director. “That doesn’t mean we can’t look for more opportunities to work collaboratively.”

Harris outlined close to $6 million in “in-kind” services that the town provides for the Westport Public Schools, including pension costs for noncertified employees, field maintenance, financial services and various other items.

At the same time, she said, there are other opportunities to look at including human resources, payroll and information technology.

“Clearly information technology is a top candidate for shared services. ... At this point we believe that the IT needs a deeper dive,” she said. “The town believes there’s an opportunity for shared network support services.”

Later on in the meeting, after it unanimously approved a $180,000 transfer for salary increases for 61 various nonunion town employees, one BOF member raised the question of relative increased productivity, which he felt put First Selectman Jim Marpe on the defensive.

“I thought I was making a pretty simple point and you seem to be taking issue with it,” James Westphal told Marpe, as the 2.5-percent increase went above the cost-of-living estimate. “I don’t know how you say that we’re going to give people these raises ... without coming up with ways of getting more out of them.”

“We’ve got to find some more productivity improvements,” he said, noting employees and peripheral costs have been on the rise the past two years, while headcount had remained static for several years prior.

“I would argue that the people in this category have had major increases in their responsibility,” Marpe said, noting those employees were “in the customer service business.” “The volume of work, the stuff that has to be done, the applications, the permits, the complexity of the things that come in ... has changed dramatically.”

“The expectation of our residents ... of what their department heads and the people that report to them are doing, has increased,” he said.

“Two-and-a-half percent doesn’t translate to a lot of dollars in some cases,” member Nancie Dupier said, adding the BOF was not in a position to judge their effectiveness.

“No one is suggesting that folks are working less or less effectively than before,” Chairman Brian Stern noted, harkening back to the earlier agenda item that spoke to efficiencies and ways to shave costs.