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Gehl steps down from New Durham Board of Selectmen


January 05, 2010
NEW DURHAM — To the shock of many, New Durham Board of Selectmen Chairman Ron Gehl offered his resignation from the board Monday night, effective Jan. 19.

"Time is precious, and, quite simply, I need to spend more of it with my wife and children, and focus more on carrying my business through these challenging times," Gehl wrote in a statement that he read aloud at the board's meeting.

"I have enjoyed the challenges that have come with the positions I have held, and the relationships I have developed with townspeople, board members and employees," he continued. "For the past 13 years, I have done my utmost to impartially serve this town with an eye toward the future. I hope that a tradition of managing town affairs in a professional and business-like manner will continue.

"Some may see recent disagreements with my fellow board members as a reason for my departure, but the truth is that I have been contemplating this for some time, as 80-hour work weeks and missed homework sessions with my kids have added up," he added.

Gehl, the president of EOS Research, Ltd. in Rochester, said that he would have liked to remain on the board until March's town meeting. In order to allow for his successor to run, however, he said he must step down by the beginning of the candidate filing period, which commences on Jan. 20.

"I hope to be available to assist in whatever capacity I can," he said.

Town administrator compensation

The board also revisited a number of budget issues Monday night.

The hottest topic regarded the compensation for the town administrator.

Selectman David Bickford suggested that roughly $66,000 be allocated for the position, which is a decrease of several thousand dollars from the money budgeted for the position last year.

After Selectman Terry Jarvis suggested they put discussion of the topic off until they discuss other budget items, many in the crowd expressed their disapproval with that decision, calling it an "unprofessional" way to deal with the town's budget.

Gehl said that it was his understanding that when the current town administrator was hired some years ago, they were to be compensated a bit more than the person who previously held the position, because they brought an effective management style and saved the town at least $100,000 in their first year.

Town Administrator April Whittaker added that when people look at all of the grant money she has helped to secure for the town, they will realize that she has not cost the town a penny.

Whittaker, who said that she normally does not even claim mileage reimbursement from the town, suggested that they provide her with an assistant if they dock her pay.

Many of those in attendance vocally announced their support for Whittaker.

"Don't insult her by asking her to take a pay cut," resident Kevin Jenks said, to applause from some audience members.

Bickford said that a study conducted by the Local Government Center showed that the costs for a town administrator for a town like New Durham should be less than what it is.

Whittaker said that that study does not account for experience of the individuals and other factors, though.

Jarvis said that she was concerned with the whole budget's bottom line.

Resident Paul Raslavicus told her that she cannot lump everything together.

"You've got to handle these things totally separately," he said.

"You cannot solve the town's problems by cutting the pay of good people," said resident Skip Fadden. "This is wrong."

Ultimately, the board did not move to reduce the administrator's pay. The compensation will remain the same as was budgeted last year, for now.

Fire department compensation

The board also met with Fire Chief Peter Varney to discuss the money allocated for compensation for the department's employees in the 2010 budget.

The budget, which is an estimate of how many hours employees will work depending upon the rescue call volume, allocated $80,725 in a line item for compensation of fire and rescue personnel.

Jarvis said that the department should better spell out money budgeted for on-call personnel who are paid for two hours for being on stand-by for 12 hours. She suggested that the department write out a formal policy describing how the process works.

Gehl said that the policies allow for the chief to have some latitude and flexibility. He added that there has never been any abuse with compensation in the department.

Varney said that if a policy were written, it might imply that personnel is on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, when the staffing is actually just at the chief's discretion.

Bickford suggested that the line item be slashed by $5,000 to save money.

After Varney said it would be easier to cut back on the department's equipment budget than its personnel budget, selectmen unanimously approved of the $80,725 line item.

The board also approved of money allocated for compensating a secretarial assistant at the department after Jarvis suggested reducing the person's pay to $12,330. Gehl dissented.

The sum of the department's personnel budget amounts to $161,697, a decrease of about $5,000 from last year's figures.

Other budget issues

The board unanimously voted to decrease their pay by 50 percent, making it $1,500 for each member.

They also approved of a number of small line items, heard some public input on the budget and discussed the town's capital improvement plan and capital reserves late into the evening.

Other business

In other business, the board received updates from their respective department heads and approved of the town's 2010 contract with the Cocheco Valley Humane Society

Next meeting

The board's next meeting has been scheduled for Monday, Jan. 18, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

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