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Delegation strives to meet March 31 deadline for county budget

March 27, 2014
OSSIPEE — With a month-end deadline looming, the Carroll County Delegation continued to whittle away at the proposed 2014 county budget this week. The delegation will meet March 28 at 9 a.m. with the goal of finalizing the budget that is due to N.H. Department of Revenue on March 31.

Daylong budget talks were held March 24, with the delegation approving many of the department budgets and subcommittee recommendations. Rep. Glenn Cordelli (R-Moultonborough) attempted to win over his fellow delegates by asking for flat one percent budget reductions across several departments. He was unable to persuade the delegates who voiced opposition to these arbitrary cuts. Cordelli's cuts, if approved, would have reduced the 2014 budget by $413,000.

Delegates decided to listen closely to the recommendations of the subcommittees who have been negotiating budgets with the county departments for the past four months. They sided with the recommendation of the jail subcommittee by voting against the hiring of an additional corrections officer. This cut amounts to about $59,000 in salary and related expenses. Subcommittee chairman Rep. Steve Schmidt (R-Wolfeboro) was not at the March 24 meeting, so committee member Mark McConkey (R-Freedom) spoke in his place. McConkey said that when the jail was first built the delegation was told that there would be no need to hire additional staff. Gradually over the years, the number of staff has increased from 16 to the present 32. McConkey said a high rate in staffing turnover needs to be addressed before bringing in any more employees. The total salary line for corrections officers in the union is $818,159 and for non-union, administrative staff $530,699. CCHOC Superintendent Jason Johnson referred to studies that have recommended the jail is understaffed and the $42,000 spent in overtime pay in 2013 reflects that. Additionally, as of press time, jail-union negotiations continue and it does not appear an agreement will be reached in time for this year's budget deadline.

Tempers flared during the discussion about the human resource department budget, specifically the director's salary. At one point, delegation chair Karen Umberger (R-Conway) became agitated and recessed the meeting. She demanded that the commissioners go down to the business office and that Commissioner Asha Kenney open the cabinet that contains the non-public meeting minutes and that they not come back upstairs until they had the minutes to prove when a vote was taken to set the director's salary at $60,000. All three commissioners did go downstairs. Commissioners David Sorensen and David Babson returned within minutes, refusing to stay down there because having three commissioners in the office discussing county business constituted a meeting and it was not posted and therefore would be illegal. Kenney remained downstairs for about a half hour and upon returning and attempted to provide further proof to back up her claim that the director's salary for 2014 was set without a vote of the commissioners. This reporter, however, went to the business office and specifically requested the Nov. 20, 2013 public meeting minutes that confirm the commissioners voted with Sorensen and Babson in favor and Kenney opposed to setting the director's salary at $60,000 beginning in July 2014 and pending favorable evaluation.

During the delegation recess, it was confirmed that, unbeknownst to her fellow commissioners, Kenney had called several of the delegates prior to the Monday meeting, accusing her fellow commissioners of illegally setting the director's salary.

The delegation voted to approve the nursing home budget at $12,244,249. This represents an increase over 2013 of $107,000 which can be attributed solely to the increase in the cost of employee health insurance, said subcommittee chairman Chris Ahlgren (R-Wolfeboro). The subcommittee went a step further than just working through this years' budget. They also worked with MVC administrator Howard Chandler to prove, based on the continued near level funding of expenses with an increased effort to increase Medicare revenues, that the home will, for the first time in its history "break even." It is projected that could occur in 2018, with officials hoping and remaining optimistic, that could happen even sooner.

As of press time, the nursing home employees' union contract remained under negotiation as well, with the announcement March 19 that the employees voted whether or not to accept the contract and it failed, in a vote of 65 in favor and four opposed. Chandler told commissioners that it was his impression the employees felt rushed into having to make a decision about changes to the contract that were not fully explained to them. "If there were time to be explained, it would have alleviated a lot of concerns," said Chandler.

"We started this way back in September of last year. They could have negotiated it all and had it all done by the first of December. We could have had it in the county commissioner's budget. We would have been done with it. People dragged their feet. I'm sorry but where do you set the time limit as to negotiations? Starting in September, they had three months to negotiate a contract and nothing happened. Maybe they talked about it and didn't come to a conclusion and it kept going on and on. I guess we can't support it if they don't support it," said Sorensen.

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