County Commissioners work to complete budget by Dec. 1

November 27, 2013
OSSIPEE — Carroll County Commissioners continued to whittle away at the proposed 2014 budget at their Nov. 20 meeting, including the apparent decision to give all non-union employees a 40-cents-per-hour pay increase.

This did not sit well with Carroll County Registrar of Deed Ann Aiton who was not pleased the commissioners took out the raises she had proposed for her employees. Aiton told the board, "I've done everything I can to keep my expenses low. I watch every single thing." She told commissioners her staff worked extra hard this past year despite being short-staffed and deserve more than the 40 cent increase. "This is not an off the street job. They have to have a legal mind," said Aiton, adding that her employees have been on staff 13 to 18 years. She argued that the current system of paying non-union employees has nothing that provides for any kind of merit increase and she believes they deserve added recognition for their hard work.

County Commissioner David Sorensen attributed the cost savings to Aiton's department becoming more efficient, which should be the goal of all departments. "Whatever the union gets, the non-union gets," he said.

After meeting with all county department heads, including the heads of Registry of Deeds, County Attorney's office, and Sheriff's Department, which are all elected positions, the commissioners are required to put together a proposed 2014 budget and submit it to the N.H. Department of Revenue by Dec. 1.

The budget setting process amounts to little more than a budget rehearsal. Department heads now move on to sharpening their pencils and revamping their requests, hoping the items denied by commissioners will be put back into the budget by the full county delegation. While the commissioner's budget is that board's recommendation as to what the 2014 budget should be, it is actually the delegation's budget that is adopted as the official budget for next year.

So far there have been no unusually pricey projects or purchases proposed. Sorensen said the individual department budgets could be reduced if an overall contingency fund existed to cover unexpected expenses when major building repairs are needed or broken equipment needs to be replaced. "This could be a solution if people trusted us to use (the money) appropriately," said Sorensen.

One thing that has been at the forefront this year is the organization of county records and how readily those records are available to the public. One possible solution that has been discussed is easing into an electronic filing system for all county records. Commissioner Asha Kenney asked if there was going to be money put in the budget for this and was told by County finance manager Kathy Garry, "We didn't think the need was there to do it." Kenney also asked that $5,000 be added to the budget to purchase a safe to store non-public meeting minutes and other document originals required by law to be permanently kept. State law, NH RSA 28:2, passed in 1855, requires that the commission clerk shall keep these records in a safe. Research is being done to determine if fireproof fire cabinets can be used in place of a safe, possibly saving the County both money and space. "Let's be practical. We've got more paperwork around here. We've got a whole second floor full of paperwork. The obvious way to go is electronic filing," said Commissioner David Babson.

In other budget discussions, Kenney took issue with a salary increase for the human resource director that she claims was negotiated behind closed doors between the director and Sorensen, leaving the other board members out of the loop. "I believe the board left it up to me to negotiate," said Sorensen. At the June 12 commissioner's meeting, the board announced in public the hiring of Wynette DeGroot at a salary of $53,000 with an increase, after six months to $55,000. Instead of the $55,000, however, Kenney referred to a document signed only by Sorensen that states "$58,000." The proposed 2014 budget bumps her salary up to $60,000. Kenney called the document fraudulent and said it was never discussed by the board or agreed to. Sorensen and Babson aligned to quickly pass a vote, shutting down Kenney's concerns, and verifying $60,000 will be added to the 2014 budget for the salary line.

Babson said he hopes Kenney will attend the meeting when DeGroot's six-month evaluation is scheduled. He said that every time the board has had to meet to discuss employee discipline issues, Kenney has been absent. "Whenever it comes down to a tough situation, you seem to be missing," said Babson. Kenney denied the allegation.

Other meeting news

It was announced that Jason Henry has been hired to fill the assistant superintendent position at the jail. Henry is currently employed in a supervisory position at Merrimack County House of Corrections. The position at Carroll County has been vacant since Captain Michael Fowler resigned earlier this fall.

There were at least three Carroll County jail employees who applied for the assistant superintendent position but were overlooked in favor of hiring someone from outside the facility. Fowler, who worked for Carroll County for eight years, has filed at least two complaints against the board of commissioners, one dating back over a year ago that was never investigated. Apparently now the complaints are being investigated. It remains to be seen whether the details of the most recent complaint or of the investigation will ever be made public. The commissioners have made a habit of keeping investigation results hidden from public review "on the advice of their attorney."

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