Fort Fairfield eliminates paid Christmas Eve holiday

1 month ago

Fort Fairfield will remove Christmas Eve from its list of paid holidays following a town council vote Tuesday.

The community joins the majority of municipalities statewide that do not observe the day before Christmas as a professional holiday.

Town Manager Tim Goff proposed the change to councilors, citing money concerns. Until this change, the town office would have to close on Christmas Eve, and some employees could be working overtime if they had to work over the two-day Christmas holiday.

“It’s just my belief that we’d incur a significant amount of overtime, and ultimately when we close the town office, it’s really kind of a bad combination,” Goff said. “And we could have even more overtime with bad weather.”

Goff surveyed local communities and also information from the Maine Town, City and County Management Association, and he found only one other municipality that includes Christmas Eve as a paid holiday, he said. 

Most communities offer a half-day for Christmas Eve, but only about half a dozen include it as a paid holiday, Ryan D. Pelletier, Aroostook County administrator and president of the Maine Town, City and County Management Association, said Thursday.

The change would exempt unionized employees, such as those in the police or public works departments, Goff said during the meeting. That holiday is a benefit negotiated through collective bargaining which the town would honor, he said. 

He suggested the council consider a floating holiday instead, which would not incur overtime pay or close the town office.

Currently, municipal staff have 14 paid holidays, Goff said. 

Council Chair Keith Thibeault and councilors Shane McGillan and James Ouellette voted unanimously to eliminate Christmas Eve as a paid holiday and allow employees to designate a floating holiday. Councilors Pat Canavan and Kevin Pelletier were absent.

Councilors also voted to set up a town tour on Monday, Feb. 5, which would allow members of the council and the Budget Advisory Committee to visit various departments. 

“Realistically, the goal is to have you folks and members of the Budget Advisory Committee to get a chance to go and see these facilities, talk with department heads and staff, and ask them questions,” Goff said.

The public is welcome to attend, but Goff asked that community members refer serious questions to him, and they would be answered publicly at a later time.

In other business, the group discussed the Spirit of America Foundation awards, which will recognize a person or organization in April. 

Based in Augusta, the Spirit of America Foundation was incorporated in 1990 and gave its first award in 1991, according to its website. Its goal is to honor volunteerism.

Last year, 185 municipalities chose Spirit of America winners, Goff said. In 2021, Fort Fairfield’s Quality of Place Council received the award for its work. He asked councilors to consider nominees for this year.

In other business, the council voted:

* To allow the town and Fort Fairfield Police Department to set up a dedicated bank account for money seized by police, to eliminate cash being stored in an evidence room.

* To proceed with industrial park surveying work, using funds from an industrial park reserve account. The project would define boundaries of land parcels in the park that are not currently well delineated.

* To appoint Mary Levasseur to the Fort Fairfield Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, filling out a term previously held by Suzanne Toussant that expires in July 2027.

The town’s next session will be a walk-through tour on Monday, Feb. 5. The next regularly scheduled council meeting is slated Wednesday, Feb. 21.