December 05, 2013TUFTONBORO — Joe Kowalski spends hours behind the video camera each week to bring Tuftonboro residents an unvarnished, televised view of town government at work. His frustration with an apparently protracted and inconclusive budget committee debate over town employee compensation spilled over during the public comment section of the selectman's Nov. 25 meeting.
At issue was what he called a "blood letting." "It seemed to me like a lot of talk, with no solutions," he protested. " I still don't understand it. You [the selectmen] present and they deny it. What will they present as a solution?"
Selectman Dan Duffy commented that the Board can present its recommendations, in this case, a four percent raise for employees, but the Budget Committee can disagree. "Personally, I can't figure out what they want to do," he added.
Kowalski asked Guy Pike, seated along the wall, what his opinion was about the most recent more than two hour Budget Committee meeting on Nov. 19, and what he thought they wanted. Pike said he was under the impression they were recommending a 1.51 percent cost-of-living increase, but Duffy corrected him, "No, they voted 3-4 against it."
Selectman Lloyd Wood reiterated the board's support for a four percent wage increase and the points presented to the Budget Committee – that since 2009 employees have only received a cost-of-living increase, which does not cover their higher living expenses, while at the same time, they've been taking home less pay. When the federal payroll tax cuts (part of the stimulus plan) returned to normal, employees saw a reduction in take home pay. At the same time there was an increase in retirement contributions and an increase in out-of-pocket expenses with lesser health care plans.
Wood also pointed out that, among other types of insurance, the town does not pay for short- and long-term disability coverage.
A look on the town's website at the approved minutes of the Budget Committee's Nov. 5 meeting, following extensive discussion about how increases are determined, found the statement, "The consensus of the Board was that the idea of a step increase is good but to disregard the grade increase and concentrate on increases that are based on performance evaluations and merit."
The minutes also state, "The majority of Bud Comm members agreed that the BOS should consider professional guidance from NHMA (New Hampshire Municipal Association) or an outside agency."
According to the draft minutes of the Nov. 19 meeting, Budget Committee member Bob McWhirter produced a spreadsheet demonstrating inconsistencies among departments and recommended that the BOS budget an estimated $10,000 to $15,000 for an outside consultant.
At the end of the meeting, according to the minutes, Chairman Ted Wright was "reluctant to move forward with any budgets [that night] due to salary issue." A motion to table further review of budgets including salary lines passed 7-0.
Wood told his fellow members of the board that the board's recommendation of four percent amounts to the addition of $36,000 to the budget.
Pike commented that he finds the Budget Committee discussions interesting enough that he plans to go the next one, too. Kowalski will also be there on Dec. 3, beginning at 6:30 p.m., recording the discussion for the local television audience on Channel 3.