MANCHESTER — The Board of Mayor and Aldermen has lifted the hiring freeze on new city employees over the objections of Mayor Ted Gatsas.
The board voted on Tuesday to end the policy, which had been in effect for the past several years and gave the mayor the authority to sign off on departmental hirings.
The vote came three weeks after a majority of the aldermen, for the first time, voted to override the tax cap to pass a $304 million budget, citing the need to hire more police, fix roads and improve city services.
Gatsas said on Thursday that he believed ending the hiring freeze “absolutely” went against the vows some of the aldermen made when they passed the budget, to do things differently to control the cost of city government.
“If we’re just going to continue business as usual, we’re not going to change anything, and we’re going to run into the same problem in January,” he said.
Alderman-At-Large Dan O’Neil made the motion at Tuesday’s meeting “to lift the hiring freeze and allow department heads to manage their budgets as the charter intends.”
Gatsas said, “I think we should have the taxpayer in mind when we make motions like that. It’s the taxpayers who are going to be hit with the brunt of that.”
Ward 1 Alderman Joyce Craig, who was one of the chief architects of the final budget, insisted that she remained committed to making changes aimed at controlling government costs.
“No one is saying we can’t make changes,” she said. “What we’re saying is department heads should have the authority to run their departments. Three to five years ago, when we put the hiring freeze in place and I voted for it, I thought it would be for one year. Instead, it’s gone on year after year.”
The motion ending the hiring freeze was passed by a wide margin on a voice vote, without a roll call.
When the budget was approved last month, Craig said, “There’s got to be a recognition that we need to make significant changes to health insurance, workers’ compensation and to Yarger-Decker.” Yarger-Decker is the system that gives employees automatic yearly raises.
The issue exposes a tension between Gatsas and department heads, who have been called on to keep vacant positions unfilled to stay within their budgets.
The Fire Department, in particular, has experienced a back-and-forth between the chief and the mayor over new hires and promotions.
Gatsas said he will continue to ask department heads to keep him in the loop on personnel decisions.
“I certainly will be asking them to come forward with changes they recommend,” he said. “We can’t just continue the growth the way it has been.”