Unequal raises for Gilford town, school employees raise hackles for some

GILFORD — Selectmen and the Budget Committee are at odds over proposed 2016 raises to nonunion staff, both for the town and School District. Traditionally, nonunion staff members have received raises equal to those called for in negotiated union contracts, but they may end up with less this year.

According to Budget Committee Chairman Kevin Leandro, the town's union employees are entitled by contract to a 2.5 percent annual raise. He said the Selectboard's budget included the same 2.5 percent for non-union staff but the Budget Committee voted to reduce the nonunion staff raise to 1.5 percent, lowering the total proposed town budget by $35,686.

"Our goal was to look at every line and reduce the budget as much as possible, Leandro said Thursday.

When brought to the attention of selectmen Wednesday night by Town Administrator Scott Dunn, Leandro was told by the selectman's representative to the Budget Committee, Richard "Rags" Grenier, that it was about the bottom line. He noted that only he and the School Board representative on the committee, Karen Thurston, voted against reducing the amount of the nonunion raises.

"(The Budget Committee members) wanted 1.5 percent maximum," said Grenier.

Leandro said that with few exceptions — primarily department heads — most of the Gilford town employees are unionized. He added that this is the first year in a long time that Social Security is not giving cost-of-living increases and that the economy has not sufficiently recovered to give out 2.5 percent raises except where union contracts require them to do so.

Thursday night the Budget Committee made the same reductions for nonunion staff employed by the School District. According to Superintendent Kent Hemingway, the School Board approved 3 percent raises for all nonunion staff. He said that only the teachers are members of the teachers' union and their contract calls for 1 percent plus a seniority step in pay level, which averages to a total about 3 percent.

Leandro said that, aside from teachers, most of the people at the School District are not organized and Hemingway said the reduction to 1.5 percent raises for nonunion staff means a reduction in the bottom line of the proposed School District budget of $53,473.

Leandro said one of his primary personal concerns is that administrators in the School District are getting 3 percent raises, which was the same as the board's request for non-union employees.

"It's not that they are bad administrators — they're not," he said. "It's just that, for this area, they are at the very top of the average pay scales, according to information I got from the New Hampshire Municipal Association."

"Our goal is to treat everybody similarly and give them all a 1.5 percent raise," he said, adding it's obvious that the Budget Committee can't do anything about existing labor contracts.

Hemingway said Friday that at Thursday's Budget Committee meeting, lowering raises for administrators and increasing raises for the support staff was discussed but not acted on.


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Gilford Concert Choir to sing with Kenny Rogers Sunday at the Capitor Center for the Arts

GILFORD — When Kenny Rogers makes his final farewell Christmas tour at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord on Sunday, 31 members of the Gilford Concert Choir will join him for three or four songs.

Band and chorus director Denise Sanborn said this concert is one of her more memorable moments as a teacher.

"I grew up in Vermont in a musical family," she said. "There were eight of us kids and my dad played the mandolin. Kenny Rogers was kind of a part of our musical family."

She said the road to the Capital Center concert came through the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion at Meadowbrook. The concert choir sang with the rock band Foreigner last summer after producing a video as part of a contest as to who would provide some backup singing.

She said Rogers usually has a chorus of singers from Massachusetts for his New England tours, but for his final Christmas tour, he reached out to the individual states where he would be performing. She said Rogers' people contacted R.J. Harding, the owner of Meadowbrook and he suggested the Gilford Concert Choir.

Sanborn said the choir was sent a set of songs they were to rehearse in September and practiced until December. She said in the past two weeks they've had a few scheduled rehearsals and a couple of impromptu ones.

She said all of the choir members will meet Sunday and travel to Concord in the afternoon where they will rehearse with Rogers during the afternoon for the 7:30 p.m. show.

Sanborn said the students are really excited because while many of them are too young to be really familiar with Rogers' entire body of work, she said all of them know him from a GEICO commercial featuring Rogers sitting at a poker table and singing "The Gambler" – one of his more famous songs – as his exasperated friends give him the evil eye.

The Rogers tour will be making a donation to the Gilford Concert Choir for their Sunday efforts.

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'Fowl' play - Gilford prize ox may have died due to turkeys in field

GILFORD — The mid-August death of Dale, an 11-year-old 2,800-pound Brown Swiss ox, is an unsolved mystery to Ron and Kathy Salanitro, owners of the Ox-K Farms Discovery Center on Belknap Mountain Road.

"We had him since he was eight hours old, and he was my husband Ron's favorite," said Kathy Salanitro. "They hung out together. Dale would get into trouble then come over to my husband and give Ron three little kisses with the tip of his tongue on Ron's cheek and tilt his head and look at Ron with his big eyes. Dale knew he was instantly out of trouble when he did that."
Salanitro said Dale , one of the four giant oxen at their farm, started to show signs of a mysterious illness in June and was taken to Tufts University Veterinary Hospital for tests in July. Changes in his diet were tried when he came back o the farm but he continued to get worse, to the the point where he was barely able to stand. In August, he was taken back to Tufts, where he died around the middle of the month.
An autopsy failed to reveal a cause and tests showed that he didn't have Lyme disease, the tick-borne illness which can be fatal to livestock.
Salanitro thinks the illness was caused by some kind of noxious plant which was brought to the farm by wild turkeys.
"There were a whole lot of plants we'd never seen before which were growing in the part of a field where the wild turkeys gather. Dale was always the leader of the other oxen, the alpha male, and would have been the first to eat those plants and leave little or nothing for the rest, so it affected him the most. Two of the others did show signs of sickness but nothing like what happened to Dale," she said.
The Salanitros contacted the UNH Cooperative Extension Service, which sent Dot Perkins, a specialist in livestock nutrition, to check out the fields.
"It was absolutely devastating for Kathy and her husband to lose Dale. It was never determined by Tufts what killed the ox. The problems started weeks before I was called and when I examined what was growing in the area where the turkeys gathered I didn't find any noxious plants. But there was lobelia inflata (also known as Indian tobacco or pukeweed) in other parts of the field, and that is a plant which can cause deaths in livestock,'' said Perkins.
She says acidosis, a situation in which there is too much acid in the rumen, a key to the digestive process for ruminants, can cause livestock to weaken and die. When acid tops the 5.6 level, it kills the microbes which break down grass and grain and allow the nutrients to be absorbed. It can also be caused by a diet too heavy in grain or rich grasses.
Perkins says that it is not uncommon for livestock to be sickened by something they've eaten that they shouldn't have and that there doesn't appear to be any increase in the frequency of those kinds of events in recent years.

Salanitro says he she has discovered another problem with her livestock. One of the three remaining oxen has been diagnosed with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, another tick-borne illness. He is being treated for the illness and showing signs of recovery.

Salanitro says she Dale was never tested for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and that she recently contacted Tufts to see if there were any of his blood samples left which could be tested. "They thought it was unlikely that he had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever because the signs weren't there."

She still believes it is likely that is some noxious plant brought to the farm by the wild turkeys which caused the problem. She and her husband removed eight garbage bags full of the strange plants, along with their roots, from the area frequented by the wild turkeys. "The lobelia inflata doesn't have much of a root system and are easily pulled out of the ground. So an ox would pull it up roots and all and leave no sign that it had been growing there."

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