SOUTHWICK — The Finance Committee and Select Board indicated a willingness to raise the salary of the health director’s position in order to find a quality candidate in a time when professionals in the medical field are asking for higher wages.
Finance Committee Chair Art Pinell said Tuesday evening that the increased salary will be achieved with a temporary arrangement in which unused funds and salaried hours will be used to provide a higher salary for the new health director, if one can be found before the fiscal 2023 budget cycle.
In addition to a new health director, Southwick’s Health Department is also currently lacking a secretary and a public health nurse, all of which are important positions to be filled during a worsening pandemic.
Former Health Director Tammy Spencer left the position last month to take the health director job in East Longmeadow. Her predecessor, Tom Fitzgerald, is filling in as interim health director in Southwick in the meantime. Spencer’s salary was $60,900, and Finance Committee members and the Select Board have said that they are willing to approve an increase of $10,000.
Select Board member Russell Fox, who has been working as a liaison to the Board of Health, said that the additional $10,000 in salary would ideally be used if the town can find a candidate who has the relevant licensing, training, and certifications for a health director after two years of COVID-19.
“It’s a tough time hiring somebody right now,” said Fox.
He also suggested that it could be possible to hire somebody who is less qualified, with the requirement that the new hire undertake the proper training and classes to become a more qualified director. Select Board member Douglas Moglin was in agreement with the idea of a higher salary for the health director.
“That seems to be the way to go. Especially with the predicament that we are in, and the fact that we are still in a pandemic. We should probably get a health agent sooner rather than later,” said Moglin.
The board approved an informal motion that the Board of Personnel allow the $10,000 increase for the position.
Paul Connolly, who had just joined the Finance Committee for the first time Tuesday evening, said that people leaving jobs for more money and requiring a higher salary at their new jobs is to be expected nowadays, and the town will simply need to adapt.
“Things are going to cost more money if you want the quality people and you want the services people in town expect,” said Connolly.
He said he sees it as a balancing act between making sure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and making sure that the town is providing the services it needs to provide.
To lighten the load somewhat as they are short-staffed, the Board of Health recently hired a COVID-19 contact tracer, as local cases continue to spike. With the secretary position unfilled, Board of Health members conducted a public work session last month to process the paperwork and bill-paying normally conducted by the secretary.
Finance Committee member Terry Mish, who has been a Finance Committee liaison to the Board of Health, said that the hiring of the public health nurse is on hold, pending a grant that could fund a public health nurse to be shared between Southwick and surrounding communities.
Three people had applied for the health director job, but declined after learning the previous salary.