Troy faces more than 160 violations from N.H. Department of Labor
- By Sierra Hubbard Sentinel Staff, July 23, 2018
TROY — A recent inspection by the N.H. Department of Labor revealed 161 violations between the town, its water and sewer department, and the Gay-Kimball Library.
An inspector with the labor department met with selectmen Friday at 1 p.m. Selectmen Chairman Richard H. Thackston 3rd posted the completed report in the Troy community Facebook group about two hours later. Members of the Gay-Kimball Library also published a copy of the report on the library website around the same time.
The nine-page report explains that the inspection began June 11 and covers a period between June 1, 2017, to the present. The department inspected the records of 62 employees, which includes full-time, part-time and seasonal workers across the town of Troy, the library and the water and sewer department.
The inspection follows months of debate between the selectmen and the Gay-Kimball Library board of trustees over the extent of the library’s autonomy. After selectmen did not release funds to the library for pay increases approved by the library’s trustees, trustee Chairwoman Jacqueline Sendrowski filed a complaint with the Department of Labor, according to the library’s director.
Rudy Ogden, deputy commissioner at the Department of Labor, said 161 violations is “not a low number,” but it can be misleading without the proper context, such as the number of employees. The department completes its inspection based on pay periods, he said, and some violations are counted per employee.
“Violations can add up pretty quickly,” Ogden said. “I wouldn’t necessarily look at the number.”
Many of the 161 violations are related to missing or incomplete documentation. The report states that 54 employees, including seven at the library, had no documentation verifying their identity and employment eligibility, such as an I-9 form.
Further, written notification of an employee’s pay period and rate of pay is required when they are hired, as well as any time those details change, according to state statute. The report says such notification was either missing or incomplete for 58 town employees and one water and sewer worker.
Other violations involve payroll. Twenty-six town employees and three library workers received checks late on 10 pay periods, according to the report.
Under the heading “incorrect pay due to miscalculations,” the report alleges that the town failed to pay two town employees and a library employee the proper wages for eight pay periods. On the low end, Thackston said, the miscalculations amounted to $5.41, while the highest underpayment is shown to be around $1,500.
All three entities received a mark for failing to keep accurate records of time worked by employees, and one town employee wasn’t paid the federal minimum wage on 10 occasions, according to the report.
Another violation stemmed from the town allowing three teenagers ages 16 or 17 to work without first getting written permission from their parents, according to the report.
“These were kids working at the rec program last year as counselors, and they didn’t fill out the paperwork properly,” Thackston said. “The parents knew where they were and were happy that they had summer jobs.”
In addition, the labor department noted in the report that the town pays the fire department’s employees semi-annually. Any pay period exceeding two weeks must be approved by the labor department, so the report instructed the town to “immediately request permission to pay other than weekly or bi-weekly.”
Thackston said the labor department indicated that it’s a relatively common violation and that towns often pay “volunteer” or on-call firefighters annually or semi-annually. He said the town intends to send a letter to the labor department this week requesting permission for the pay structure.
Thackston took office as a selectman in March. He said most of the violations in the report occurred before he was elected. But, he said, he believes a big part of the problem was a lack of modernization.
“I don’t think any one person is to blame,” Thackston said. “I think the way the town approached the management of its personnel — they never really updated how they handled it.”
By the time the labor department completed its inspection, Thackston said, most of the issues had already been addressed.
“It would not be possible to be hired by the town of Troy today without your proper paperwork,” Thackston said. “We have created a procedures manual … and a new-hire checklist, and we’ve also established an exit interview process as well.”
Now that the report is released, Ogden said the labor department will send the town a letter within a week laying out the proposed penalties.
“Certain violations, if it’s a first-time violation, they could have a warning,” he said.
Others that affect employee pay, including miscalculated or late payments, can come with higher penalties, he said.
Once the town receives the proposed penalties, Ogden said the selectmen have a few options. The most common is to solve the matter informally with the labor department by explaining corrective actions. If the employer demonstrates compliance, Ogden said the penalties can be reduced or removed altogether.
The second option is to request a formal hearing in Concord if the employer is unhappy with the penalties or the arrangement with the labor department, Ogden said, and the final option is to simply pay the fines.
Pay increase problems
The report included one violation that addressed the impetus for the inspection. Six employees of the Gay-Kimball Library were not paid increased wages that took effect with the pay period ending March 18, according to the report, which indicates the town retroactively paid the increases July 16.
At its Feb. 7 meeting, the library board of trustees unanimously approved new pay rates for library employees, which would take effect after town meeting. The library is listed as a line item in Troy’s operating budget.
Jacqueline Sendrowski, the chairwoman of the library trustees, spoke at the selectmen’s meeting May 14 to address what she called the selectmen’s “refusal to implement the rate of pay changes the library board of trustees voted on.” She said that, if the selectmen did not implement the pay changes, the library trustees would complain to the state’s labor department. Library Director Catherine Callegari wrote in an email to The Sentinel that the rate of pay changes approved by the library trustees ranged from 0.5 to 3 percent.
But the selectmen approved 3 percent raises for all town employees, and because the library trustees intended to distribute the pay increases differently, Thackston said the selectmen didn’t release the funds to the library on March 18 while they tried to determine whether they had authority over the library staff as town employees.
“The selectboard wanted to implement the raises across the board,” he said Sunday. “… Our concern was that we would have liability for employees who were unhappy because … everybody was promised a raise and they didn’t get theirs.”
At the selectmen’s meeting, Sendrowski asserted that the library exists as an entity separate from the town. Citing the state legal case Littleton v. Taylor and New Hampshire statute, she said library staff members are not town employees.
Thackston disagreed, telling her that, because the library is included as a line item on the town’s budget, it functions as a town department, and its staff members are town employees.
Speaking to The Sentinel Sunday, he compared the library to the water and sewer department, which functions with more autonomy and handles its own payroll, but is still under the “corporate umbrella” of the town, according to Thackston. The selectmen’s office handles the library’s financial affairs, he said, though the library has its own board of trustees.
“They are legally and technically and for budgetary purposes town employees,” he said. “So, they could obtain their own taxpayer identification number like the water department has, and they could handle their own payroll and their own finances, which I would think is a good idea.”
Callegari wrote in her email that it’s not unusual for New Hampshire municipalities to administer the finances for their libraries. Each year, she said, the board of trustees and the selectmen sign a letter of understanding that details the arrangement.
Callegari said the letter is meant to ensure that “there aren’t any misunderstandings regarding our payroll and budget although this year it has not worked as expected.”
She said it makes sense for the town to manage the library’s payroll and budget.
“It would be a disservice to the community if the library’s tax dollars were spent duplicating a service (payroll and bill paying) instead of being spent on the library’s services to our community,” Callegari said in the email, “and in light of the ruling by the Department of Labor, we are hopeful that this will not be necessary.”
Since the inspection, Thackston said the library has received the pay increases, but he expects the overarching discussion to continue.
“This is something that in my mind is unresolved,” Thackston said. “… It is an item which we will seek greater clarity on when we meet with the Department of Labor.”
Sierra Hubbard can be reached at 355-8546 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @SierraHubbardKS.