Investing in Marblehead HR dept. could save taxpayers’ money

Marblehead has never had a human resources department within its municipal government, and  Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer says investing in one could save taxpayers’ money in the long run. 

The 2023 Town Warrant includes Article 24, which proposes that the Town Meeting establish a human resources department. If passed, it would also authorize the Select Board to appoint a director for a term not exceeding three years.

Currently, two Marblehead Finance Department employees handle payroll and benefits for approximately 216 full-time town employees.

Kezer emphasized the importance of having a human resources director, noting that employee benefits and insurance costs constituted 18% of the town’s $87.9 million budget in FY2022.

“That whole section of benefits, the insurance and Medicare and all that stuff, it’s like a $15 million line item,” Kezer said. “Employees’ salaries and benefits are the biggest costs to the municipal government.

“The concept would be hiring a person whose job it is to focus on these things and help us manage them better,” Kezer continued. “Our goal is to have human resources expertise, someone specifically focused on managing these resources.”

If Town Meeting approves Article 24, those functions would be transferred to the human resources department, consolidating general human resource functions under one individual.

“The way we are organized right now, human resource functions are spread out among all the departments on the town side,” Kezer told the Marblehead Current.

The human resources department would be responsible for, but not limited to, the following tasks:

— Formulating and implementing personnel policies.

— Employee relations.

— Support for collective bargaining.

— Wages and salaries administration.

— Recruitment and monitoring workers’ compensation.

— Police/fire medical administration.

— Benefits administration for town employees and retirees.

— Overseeing unemployment benefits.

— Managing personnel records.

At the Finance Committee meeting on April 3, Kezer stated that he has allocated a $110,000 salary for the human resources director in the proposed FY 2024 budget.

Superintendent John Buckey mentioned that he and former town administrator Jason Silva added a joint human resources director for the fiscal year 2022. 

“Jason left Marblehead shortly after we hired an HR director,” said Buckey. “She handled absences and leaves. She also onboarded our new employees.”  

He added, “In her tenure, she modernized the functions of the HR office.”

Marblehead Public Schools had its own human resources director until she left due to the position being eliminated and reorganized.

“We had an HR generalist in the override last year,” Buckey said, “but when that failed, we were not able to hire anyone.”

Buckey told the Marblehead Current that he would be interested in exploring a shared joint human resources position between the town and the school district.

“I think there is potential for a combined town/school HR department,” Buckey said, “but it needs to be staffed appropriately and have clear guidelines for roles and responsibilities.”

Regarding a joint human resources director, Kezer expressed reticence.

“It’s a challenge when you look at these top-level positions, whether it be in the district, the town or multiple towns,” he said. “You can’t put a department head where they have two bosses, like where it would be a superintendent and a town administrator.”

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