LACONIA — The Belknap County Convention approved a collective bargaining agreement between Teamsters Local 633 and the county by a 10-5 vote on Monday night.
The vote came after more than an hour of discussion of the two-year agreement which provides a 1.4 percent pay raise as well as step increases for the 23 mid-level managers represented by the union, which are based on individual performance reviews, and would increase total compensation by 4.4 percent by those who qualify.
In return the union members agreed to switch to a less expensive site of service health care plan which will lower health care costs for the county.
The contract will have a $14,586.67 impact on this year's county budget and will save the county more than $26,000 next year.
The two-year contract was approved by commissioners three weeks ago and ratified by a unanimous vote of the 23 employees covered by the contract two weeks ago.
County Commission Chairman Dave Devoy (R-Sanbornton) said that the contract reduces health insurance costs and provides flexibility for the commissioners to change insurance carriers. Employees will change to a so-called "site of services" plan which he says will help the county keep from reaching the Affordable Care Act "Cadillac tax" threshold, which is a penalty on expensive health insurance plans that is due to kick-in in 2018.
A cost summary of the contract shows health insurance costs for the covered employees dropping from $336,433 this year to $322,543, a $13,890 decline, and from $356,881 next year to $300,400, a $56,481 decline.
DeVoy said that the agreement was negotiated by a committee comprised of himself, fellow commissioner Hunter Taylor, County Administrator Deb Shackett and Roger Gray of Sanbornton, a member of that town's budget committee.
He said that the agreement provides for $1,000, $2,000 and $3,000 deductibles on single , two-person and family plans for which the county will now pay the entire bill, which reduces the amount the county pays for the current HMO plan by as much as $4,000. Currently employees pays 5 to 6.5 percent of the premiums for the HMO plans.
Asked by Rep. Ray Howard (R-Alton) why the county hadn't followed the advice of Commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) in challenging the union's certification in 2014 by the NH Pubic Employees Labor Relations Board DeVoy said he wasn't big on spending a lot of money on legal fees.
He said that the agreement authorizes the first pay raises for any county employees since 2012 and that he is hopeful that it will serve as model for contract negotiations with the other three county unions, all of whom are affiliated with the State Employees Association. The three represent 111 employees in the nursing home, house of corrections and Sheriff's Department,
Voting for the contract were Laconia representatives Frank, Tilton, Robert Fisher, Bob Luther and Don Flanders, Rep. Dennis Fields of Sanbornton, Gilford representatives Russ Dumais and Glenn Aldrich, Rep. David Russell of Gilmanton, Rep. Herb Vadney of Meredith and Rep. Valerie Fraser of New Hampton.
Voting against the contract were Rep. Howard of Alton, Rep. Shari Lebreche of Belmont, Rep. George Hurt of Gilford, Rep. Brian Gallagher of Sanbornton and Rep. Peter Spanos of Laconia.
After the vote Kim Richardson of Meredith, a member of the negotiating team for the union, thanked all those representatives who had voted for it and said that the county workers showed that they were willing to work to save the county money.
''We have a big stake in this and for some it's costing us a lot,'' said Richardson.
Barbara Howard of Alton criticized the vote, saying that it was money that was being taken away from taxpayers and that those who voted for the contract were ''totally out of touch.''
Gray, who represented the public during the negotiations, defended the contract and said that the one person who had held the negotiations together was County Administrator Shackett.
''We couldn't have done it without her. I was on the other side before but I saw how professional she was and how she worked so hard to represent the views of the commissioners,'' said Gray.
His comments drew a round of applause from the audience, most of whom were county employees.
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