Wilton Water Commission budget questioned

WILTON – Michael Bergeron is the longtime superintendent of the town’s water works. He is the commission’s only employee, has no back-up and it would be extremely difficult to replace him if he should leave. He does not have a contract.

The commission’s proposed budget for 2018 provides a 4 percent salary increase for Bergeron, and what some have interpreted as a $5,000 “retention bonus.”

Water Commissioner Tom Schultz met with the Board of Selectmen on Jan. 8 to clarify an article that appeared last week in another state publication.

Selectman Kermit Williams also is a Water Commissioner.

“The article was not entirely accurate,” Williams said. The article refers to a budget line for $5,000 as a “retention bonus” for Bergeron, an attempt to keep him as superintendent. “That is not our intent. We want to have the money there to provide some flexibility if we need it. Our rationale is that Mike is the only employee of the Water Department and has a unique set of skills that would make it hard to replace him. We wanted to have some options. If he left, we would be in difficult circumstances.”

Schultz added, “We have not yet done anything. It is only a proposal” that the Budget Committee has not yet acted on. “It is just a line in our proposed budget.” He said he was not interviewed for the article.

Town Administrator Scott Butcher said the article, plus the commission minutes, “was affecting town employee morale,” that some employees had questioned why Bergeron would receive a bonus, and they wouldn’t.

Schultz said, “Bergeron is not a town employee, and the Water Works is not a town department,” although the department is administered through the town office.

Chairman Bill Condra said, although all town employees are valued, “there are some positions that require a special set of skills,” and Bergeron’s position is one of those.

The town still is without a director of public works, Condra said, and Bergeron has volunteered to fill a vacant snowplowing position.

Schultz said that has “apparently led to a concerted effort to hire Mike away from us.”

Condra denied that.

It was agreed that Bergeron had the right to apply for the Public Works Department position, but he has not done so.

Selectman Kellie-Sue Boissonnault asked if paying the bonus “would set a precedent. This isn’t the way to go. I have concerns about the other employees.”

Butcher said there are “other mechanisms for rewarding employees for extra service.”

Williams noted that the town was “managing without a public works director, with Butcher handing the administrative parts and Acting Director Brian Adams running the department,” but that couldn’t happen if Bergeron were to leave. He said he “was sorry other employees were reading this into the minutes.”

Butcher said he would soon be interviewing “a good candidate” for Public Works director.