March 29, 2012OSSIPEE — In a $27,000,000 budget sometimes it's the smallest items that bring out the most discussion – as has been the case in this year's county budget cycle.
Despite nine hours of discussion over two Mondays, the Carroll County Delegation, made up of the county's state representatives just couldn't quite put the finishing touches on their approval of the 2012 county budget. They decided to recess their March 26 meeting in favor of taking up the final budget decision on their lunch break from state work in Concord March 28. Details of that meeting were not available as of press time.
One stand out during the exhaustive budget negotiations, that had some department heads and employees sitting through a marathon five hour session March 19 waiting for their turn and then not be called on, was Carroll County Farm Manager Will DeWitte. He passionately defended his employee's right to be reimbursed for job-specific clothing that gets worn out during the rigors of their work day.
The budget amount would have provided for up to $200 each for the three Farm employees to replace clothing or boots that get damaged during the course of their work processing firewood, maintaining the Ossipee Corner water system, maintaining the county complex grounds and other farm-related duties. NH Rep. Mark McConkey (R-Freedom) spoke against the $600, asking his fellow delegates to cut the $600 to $100 to allow the farm employees to be outfitted with baseball caps and t-shirts emblazoned with the county seal or other markings that would identify them as county employees when out doing work on the water system or delivering firewood to customers. The budget line has been approved at $600 by the county commissioners and the delegation's farm subcommittee and recommended to the full delegation. When DeWitte asked to speak about the proposed cut, McConkey spoke against that saying the delegation already had enough information to make their decision without DeWitt speaking again. Rep. David Knox (R-Wolfeboro) disagreed and after a vote of the delegation, DeWitte was allowed to defend the budget line.
DeWitte pointed out that some of the delegates are also town selectmen and asked that they consider whether or not town employees are reimbursed for work-required clothing. "I would bet when I see those people out doing the hard work they do they have uniforms that they use and are replaced when they wear out. Replacing boots, coats, shirts, safety gear is something we should do for our employees. That's $200 a piece for three employees that they get. My employees are non-union. This last week we found out we are not going to get meals anymore. I've got employees that have been here for 20 years and aren't going to get meals anymore," said DeWitte. He went on to do the math. He estimates that with the $780 meal benefit and the $200 clothing reimbursement totals a $980 loss to the employees in those benefits. The loss, DeWitte said is not being offset by an equal pay increase as commissioners have decided to recommended a flat hourly increase of 30 cents per hour for all non-union employees. Earlier this month, commissioners voted to eliminate the free meal program for all non-union county employees.
In the end, McConkey and Rep. Norman Tregenza voted to cut the clothing reimbursement while Reps. Frank McCarthy, Knox, Babson, Harry Merrow, Betsey Patten, Chris Ahlgren, Gene Chandler, and Steve Schmidt all voted not to cut the money.
As for the free meals, commissioners also announced that effective April 1 the free coffee and Danish at their weekly meetings and the delegation meetings will be no more. Elected officials, employees, and the public will be charged $1 for each item they take from the food table during meetings