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New Durham selectmen revisit compensation issues

December 30, 2009
NEW DURHAM — With next March's town meeting drawing closer and budget season in full swing, selectmen revisited compensation issues for the town's employees last week.

Reading from prepared remarks during the Dec. 21 meeting's citizen's forum session, Selectwoman Terry Jarvis said that she was "distressed" with what transpired at a budget committee meeting on Dec. 16 regarding employee compensation.

After reviewing a video recording of the meeting, Jarvis said that she felt board Chairman Ron Gehl, who serves as the selectmen's representative on the budget committee, relayed "inaccurate" information to committee members of what went on at the selectmen's Dec. 14 meeting regarding the matter.

At the Dec. 14 meeting, selectmen discussed and approved of increasing pay for the highway department's part-time clerical assistant, the part-time children's librarian, the selectmen's part-time minute taker and part-time Solid Waste employees, as well as putting equity pay raises for the building inspector, librarian and officials at the police department into the 2010 budget.

Jarvis said that she felt Gehl left the impression that there were discussions of pay raises by selectmen outside of a legally posted meeting.

Selectman David Bickford added that town administrator April Whittaker (who was not in attendance at last Monday's meeting) alluded at the budget committee meeting to discussions of compensation that occurred outside of the selectmen's meetings. No such discussions have occurred, he said.

"I feel like I have been sent down the river," Jarvis said, while offering Gehl suggestions as to how he could have clarified information that he brought forward at the budget committee meeting.

Gehl apologized for any confusion he might have caused, but said he didn't think what he said should have caused any major problems.

"I didn't think it was a big deal, quite frankly," Gehl said, adding that he informed budget committee members that they would get a much more elaborate picture of employee compensation at their next meeting.

More budget issues

Jarvis said during last Monday's meeting that she had issues with 12 separate budget items.

Among concerns, she said that she felt that the time allocated for a part-time position to institute a new computer program at the highway department was too little. She suggested that the board allocate more hours for the position while the program is getting "data dumped."

Gehl reminded Jarvis that by expanding hours, it could cost the town thousands of dollars.

Jarvis said that she understood that, but said she felt the program to be a top priority.

Jarvis also brought forward a suggestion to combine the custodial staffs between the town's buildings.

Gehl told Jarvis that trying to combine the contracted positions could prove difficult.

"You might come out of this looking pretty ugly," he said.

The board also looked through some of the town's part-time positions.

They will continue discussing positions and employee compensation at their next meeting.

Public hearings

The board also held two required public hearings to accept and expend funds.

The first hearing regarded removing $2,200 from the Smith Ballfield Capital Reserve fund, in order to replace doors on the facility's concession stand and storage buildings, to provide for better security.

The only concern was from Jarvis, who asked where the money would go if the project came in under budget.

Gehl said that the money would stay in the reserve fund.

The motion passed unanimously.

The second hearing dealt with accepting $9,595.98 of FEMA state portion money to reimburse the town for damage caused by the December 2008 ice storm.

After all of those in attendance remained mum, selectmen unanimously passed a motion to accept the funds.

Other business

In other business, the board received word from police Chief Shawn Bernier that the Cocheco Valley Humane Society's fees for the town in 2010 will increase slightly.

He also reported that the society will no longer accept citizen strays; all animals turned over will have to be handled through the police department.

The board also approved of a change order for work along Davis Crossing Road, reducing funds by $5,740.

Gehl also gave his colleagues a brief update on the town's capital improvement plan. More information about the plan will be discussed at future meetings.

Next meeting

The board's next meeting has been scheduled for Monday, Jan. 4, at p.m. at Town Hall.

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