GILMANTON — More fireworks appear to be in the offing when the Board of Selectmen meets next week to consider the request of newly appointed town administrator Paul Branscombe for a multi-year employment contract and a proposal to convert his administrative assistant, Stephanie Fogg, to full-time status.
Don Guarino, who chairs the Selectboard, objects to both proposals, insisting that both issues should be addressed in consultation with the Budget Committee in the course of preparing the 2016 town budget. "It's premature," he said. Meanwhile, Rachel Hatch, who was appointed to complete the term of Steve McCormack last month, indicated that she favors proceeding with both proposals while Michael Jean, the third selectman, could not be reached yesterday by The Daily Sun for comment.
The issues were tabled a week ago at the close of a stormy Selectboard meeting during which, over Guanrino's opposition, Jean and Hatch voted to raise the salary of Finance Director Marie Mora. The vote followed the disclosure of several financial miscues, which together appeared to confirm Branscombe's judgment in his first report to the board that "we can no longer do full-time work with part-time employees. It simply doesn't work."
Last week, it was disclosed that there was a discrepancy between the total appropriations approved by the town meeting in March and the amount subsequently reported to the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration (DRA). After voters rejected the budget recommended by the selectmen, the town reverted to a default budget of $3,515,283, which together with approved warrant articles, including $45,975 for the Gilmanton Year-Round Library, total appropriations amounted to $3,769,522. However a figure of $3,678,235 was reported to revenue officials in Concord.
Furthermore, Branscombe revealed that against the advice of the DRA, the town made an unwarranted payment of $406,110 to the School Sistrict. Another $8,432 was encumbered to pay the health insurance of an employee who had ceased working for the town. And Branscombe said checks, signed, unsigned and yet to be mailed, were found here and there — even among Planning Board minutes.
"We found some things under the rocks," Branscmbe said yesterday. He added that all the errors have been or are being corrected and attributed them to unreasonable demands and expectations of part-time employees.
To address the situation Branscombe assigned Mora responsibility for both meeting the payroll and managing human resources and requested her hourly rate be increased from $19 to $25 per hour. He explained that before Mora, who came to the town after 27 years with Belknap County, was hired the town paid private contractors working part-time $55 and $65 per hour to do the same work. Assured the increase could be funded within the budget, Jean and Hatch voted to grant the increase.
Hatch said that when the board meets on Tuesday, September 8 she will propose granting Branscombe a "multi-year" contract and making his administrative assistant a full-time position. She said that both measures would "stabilize the Board of Selectmen's office. Last week Jean agreed with Hatch that the administrative assistant should be a full-time employee.
Guarino said he will oppose both proposals.He said that the town has never granted employees multi-year contracts, let alone contracts with guaranteed annual increase of $5,000, as Branscombe has requested, In any event, he stressed that any such commitment should be undertaken in collaboration with the Budget Committee. "The Board of Selectmen, as the executive branch, would be cutting the Budget Committee out of the process," he said. "We'll begin taking about the budget in the coming weeks," he continued. "It would be premature to act now."
Likewise, Guarino described converting the administrative assistant to a full-time position with benefits would represent "a significant change" that should also be made together with the Budget Committee and included in the 2016 budget. He acknowledged that Fogg, the incumbent, would not require health insurance, but her successor could, noting that a family plan would cost the town upwards of $24,000. "This is a substantial change."
Finally, Guarino rejected that contention that there are funds in the current budget to fund the proposals for the remainder of this year. He said that although the default budget exceeds the budget the selectmen recommended, "I think we should stay within in the 2015 budget we proposed. I don't agree with spending more just because the money is available."