DRACUT — Town Manager Jim Duggan and the majority of selectmen have come out against a Town Meeting article that looks to fully pay public employees while they are serving in the military reserves.
The article is sponsored by firefighter Justin George, who also serves as a medic for the National Guard. Earlier this month George came before the selectmen to argue in favor adoption of Mass. General Laws Section 33, Chapter 59.
The lengthy discussion proved to be very confusing for a few selectmen as they tried to follow the math and scenarios posed by George, also a resident of Dracut.
Selectman Tami Dristiliaris’ motion to recommend was met with silence. Selectman Joseph DiRocco Jr. later made a motion to not recommend. His motion passed 3-1, with DiRocco and Selectmen Jesse Forcier and Allison Hughes in the majority. Dristiliaris dissented. Selectman Tony Archinski was absent.
DiRocco said he believes adoption of the law could have a big impact because it applies to other town employees such as those who work for the Police Department and the Department of Public Works. Duggan said nine firefighters would be covered, but could not say how many other town employees would be involved.
Military training usually occurs on weekends and summer months, so the majority of those whom this law would affect are police officers and firefighters, George said last week.
“So what you’re saying is there’ll be 34 days that you’ll get paid no matter what,” DiRocco told George at the selectmen meeting.
“Up to 34 days,” George said.
“Up to 34 days you’ll get your pay from the town, and you’ll get your pay from the military, correct?” DiRocco asked.
“Correct,” George said.
“OK,” DiRocco said. “OK, you can go on but that’s like, that’s double pay, but go ahead.”
Later, George dismissed the “double pay” label.
“I think it’s a negative term for what it actually is,” he said. “Whether you agree or disagree with military or politics or whether or not it’s something deserved, if you don’t know all of the aspects that this impacts then you’re basing off one aspect or one person’s interpretation of it.”
George provided an example to better explain the issue. The rounded numbers he gave are not the exact figures he earns.
“Let’s say my shift for the town is on Saturday and I can’t make it because I have (military) drill. If I work for the town, that would be $400. When I get paid for drill, I make $200 Saturday and $200 Sunday,” George said.
He said the town then looks at what he earned for the entire weekend — $400 — and compares it to what the town would have paid him for that Saturday if he had worked his firefighter job, which is also $400. By his calculation, he’s out $200.
George is well known in town. He was one of the first responders to the home of Scott and Kate Middlemiss on the day their son, Joseph, died in 2013 from cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes an enlarged heart. In 2017, he ran the Boston Marathon to benefit Joseph Middlemiss Big Heart Foundation.
In 2016, he was one of many volunteers who searched for, and found, Kathryn Lucier, a Dracut resident who has dementia and went missing for three nights.
Duggan said it’s fair to say that no one wants anyone to lose money. He and DiRocco suggested that George file a grievance.
“We’re doing it one way that’s in the bylaws now. This is a different way,” Dristiliaris said. “This is a different way to do it, and it’s been adopted by other towns.”
That’s all they’re asking, she added.
“We are extremely sensitive and appreciative of the men and women that serve our country and that’s why the town clearly recognized that in 2006 and adopted a law that allows us to make sure that they don’t lose any pay. If the pay for their rank is lower than what they make for the town, we will close that gap,” Duggan said. “What is being asked (of) us to adopt is something that goes above and beyond that.”
Duggan warned the item could be a budget buster, as costs could rise.
Town Meeting will begin Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the high school.
Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.