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Ossipee voters cut dog officer budget, deny selectman raises

March 22, 2012
OSSIPEE — About 120 of the town's registered voters turned out for town meeting March 14 and approved a total of $6,186,972 in expenses for this year.

Votes for what to do with salaries captured most of the discussion, with the group chopping two requests while agreeing to another, with talk leaning more towards the people employed to do the jobs rather than the cost of funding the positions.

First up were the cemetery caretakers. Selectmen had voted against the cemetery trustee's proposed budget because it did not include a raise for the "Nason Boys" who mow the grass and otherwise maintain the town's cemeteries. According to Cemetery Trustee Joe Sargent, in the time between when the trustees met with the selectmen initially and Town Meeting day, the trustees had come to the agreement that the Boys did, in fact, deserve a raise. Outgoing Selectman Morton Leavitt was the one who pushed for the raise all along. At Town Meeting, Leavitt called them "outstanding young men who have been left behind" and said their current wage of $11 per hour should be increased to $15 per hour, in line with other part-time town employees. Sargent made an amendment to bring the cemetery line to $4,690 and guaranteed voters the money would go to giving the raise. The amendment passed.

Dog Officer

Though not named by name, the dog officer and related budget took a slashing as voters approved an amendment that cut the budget from $12,000 to $6,000. One voter complained that her child was bitten by her own dog and she contacted the dog officer who did not respond and the police department handled it instead. "If it's all salary and she's not showing up when people get bit – we're getting ripped off," she said. Selectman Harry Merrow explained the dog officer budget was increased in a previous year to entice more people to apply for the job and cutting the budget might prevent selectmen from finding someone to get the job done. Police Chief Donald Grow also spoke against the cut and said, "When the dog officer is not available our officers go out to all kinds of complaints. Take this money away from the dog officer we will have to be chasing dogs." Voters seemed convinced to make the cut when they learned the dog officer had not submitted an annual report to be included in the town report, giving the 2011 statistics regarding dog calls. The amendment to cut the budget passed in a vote of 63-38.

Selectman salaries

Outgoing selectman Leavitt lobbied for a raise for selectmen – the first in years – but that idea was shot down by voters. Selectmen had taken heat over their decision to put a raise on the warrant this year while at the same time reducing the number of times they meet from weekly to twice a month. Leavitt and Merrow argued that while they are holding fewer meetings, there is plenty of work going on behind the scenes. Leavitt said the selectmen are in the office nearly every day and have an "enormous amount of responsibility" with keeping abreast of changing rules and regulations and keeping tight control of the town. "We are not here for the money but to do the best for the town and make it a great place to live and work," he said. Budget Committee member and incoming selectman Bob Freeman said the committee decided that with "the way the economy is" level-funding of the selectmen's budget is the best thing to do at this time. Resident Kevin Houle, a regular at selectmen's meeting who often holds the board to task over decisions they are making surprised some by speaking in favor of the raise for the board members. "For what they have to do and what they have to answer to, they deserve it," he said. Voters did not agree with Houle, however, and the selectmen's salary will remain at $5,000 each. In comparison, Freedom selectmen are also paid $5,000 each and Effingham voters decided at their town meeting last weekend not to cut selectmen's salaries and keep them at $7,000 each. One voter pointed out that if selectmen have too much work to do, perhaps they should be putting more of the burden on department heads.

Outside agencies

With little discussion, voters approved $117,569 to be given to outside agencies including the Carroll County Transit and the Schools Out! Afterschool program, a program that Budget Committee Member David Babson called "the most worthwhile program in town." Babson said he did vote against the Carroll County Transit request because it should be funded by all towns that have access to the service, including Conway whose voters shot down funding the transportation program. Of the upstart program, Resident Bob Pustell said, "We need to nurture it, grow it and I don't give a damn what Conway does." And his fellow voters agreed.

The rest of the meeting

Voters easily approved the rest of the warrant and shot down an amendment made by Resident Tom Kondrat who called for the operating budget to be level-funded at last year's total – about $200,000 less. Kondrat pointed out that selectmen had underspent their budget by $800,000 last year and could find ways to make it through 2012 with less.

With the budget finalized, selectmen will now carry out their plan for 2012 including renovating the building at One Moultonville Road into office space for the town's land use boards, meeting and storage space. Voters approved a new pickup truck for the highway department and a police cruiser. All of the computers at the police department are set to be replaced and a new roof will be put on the main building at the transfer station. The highway department is preparing to move forward on road projects and the deck replacement of the Thurley Road Bridge.

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