SKOWHEGAN — Selectmen this week voted to lift a hiring freeze for all full-time municipal employees with benefits that was imposed five years ago.

Town Manager Christine Almand brought the measure to the board Tuesday night, noting that lifting the freeze would streamline the process of filling vacant positions by having the manager do most of the work without the Board of Selectmen being directly involved.

“My thought process is that you get a two-week notice, and sometimes with a selectmen’s meeting there’s a two- or three-week break, so it prolongs the process,” Almand said. “It typically takes six weeks to hire someone, depending on which position it is, so by prolonging that by two or three more weeks, it makes it a longer, drawn-out process.”

Board Chairman Donald Skillings said he voted against the measure Tuesday night, noting it never really was a hiring freeze in the first place. He said the vote by the Board of Selectmen in May 2010 was more of a way to maintain oversight by the board on filling positions as an extra set of eyes for the department heads and the town manager.

During the so-called freeze, vacant positions to be filled would go before the selectmen, not just the town manager and the department head, Skillings said.

“It was a way back then to maintain an employee count, which simply states that if there is an opening in town, they need to ask the Board of Selectmen if that should be filled or not,” he said. “It’s a way that we can control our budgets, and I feel strongly that we need that oversight.”

Skillings said given the fiscal problems that may lie ahead with the challenged valuation for taxation of the Sappi paper mill, the added scrutiny of budget lines, spending and hiring by the five-member board is important.

Paul York, the vice chairman, also voted against the measure, saying he wanted an outline of which positions were to be filled. Selectmen Darla Pickett, Betty Austin and Soren Siren voted for the lifting of the hiring freeze.

Austin, the only selectman still on the board from 2010, voted against the original measure that year, noting that it is not the selectmen’s job to take care of town employees, according to meeting minutes. Austin said at the time that selectmen should let the town manager know that they don’t want unnecessary hirings, a point Almand said she is aware of.

Almand said Wednesday the need to fill positions and the uncertain future of the paper mill valuation all are taken into consideration.

“Any time we post a position, we consider all aspects of the posting and consider the fiscal responsibility,” she said.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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