DRACUT — An outside firm has determined the town has appropriately applied a law aiming to close the pay gap for town employees in military service.
The decision comes after Town Manager Jim Duggan sought clarification due to a now-deferred Town Meeting article sponsored by well-known firefighter Justin George, who also serves as a medic for the National Guard. George’s Article 45 proposed to adopt Mass. General Laws Chapter 33, Section 59, under which public employees who serve in the military are paid fully while fulfilling their military service obligations through drills and training. The benefit from this law is up to 34 days.
“In our opinion, the Town’s practice of subtracting the employee’s military compensation from both weekend days is accurate and consistent with Article 29 passed by the Town in June 2006, requiring that the Town reduce the compensation paid by Dracut ‘by any amount received from the United States as base pay for military service performed during the same period,'” wrote Scott C. McIntire of the public accounting firm Melanson & Heath, in a July 11 letter to Duggan.
“I was fully confident we were applying the law accurately, so this comes as no surprise whatsoever,” Duggan said Thursday.
Duggan said he now considers this issue closed and expects the article that was deferred to be withdrawn.
“I’m still pursuing the article,” George said on Thursday. “The article and the bylaw that has been practiced are two totally separate things.”
“It’s two separate issues. He didn’t get the answer he wanted from the payroll people, thus he put this article that he is directly going to benefit from,” Duggan said. “Now he’s going to put this article forward that’s going to go above and beyond the requirements.”
George said Duggan’s statement was a blatant and personal attack from the manager of the town, adding that he won’t be making any further public comments on this.
“I’m sorry he feels that way, but the town has made sincere efforts in 2006 to adopt a law that makes sure that all town employees receive compensation that will not engage in them losing any money for serving our country,” Duggan said.
George contends he would have still pursued the article had the firm’s decision been different. He said the current bylaw and the way it’s been interpreted to him was the exact reason why he chose to pursue Mass. General Laws.
He also pointed out that the firm hired to come to a decision on this matter has been used in the past by the town. Duggan on Thursday said that should not cast any doubt on Melanson & Heath’s work as an independent auditor, adding that he stands by the integrity and ethical standards of the firm.
The cost of the firm’s service was less than $5,000, according to Duggan. Melanson & Heath audits Town Hall’s finances yearly.
In his letter, McIntire said the calculations surround the compensation paid to a firefighter who also received compensation from the United States for military or drill service. The name of the firefighter was not disclosed.
In the event the combined compensation (from the town and from the U.S. government) due to the individual is less than his or her standard weekly rate of pay working for the town, the town pays the individual the difference, McIntire wrote in the letter. However, if the combined compensation exceeds his or her standard weekly rate of pray from the town of Dracut, the town does not provide additional compensation.
Leo McMahon, union president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2586, said he was not surprised by the decision. “The town has stated that they would hire an outside independent consultant and we were going to have a grievance procedure. We probably should have stuck with the grievance procedure,” McMahon said. “To say that it was a fair proceeding would be a stretch.”
In response, Duggan said it was “disappointing that such an allegation would come from the president of a firefighter union who represents all of the firefighters for the town of Dracut.”
“There has been absolutely nothing presented to the town by the president of the union or the petitioner that demonstrates we are doing this incorrectly,” Duggan said.
George previously said he deferred his article to create and present an actual cost and impact to the town. The firefighter and Dracut resident also told The Sun that this isn’t about him getting paid more, but about the principle.
Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.