Another year has come and gone with regards to annual meetings. The Tilton-Northfield Fire District Annual meeting was at best a disappointment. I say that with all due respect to the Budget Committee, the commissioners and our administration. First, thank you all for your service and hard work.
Each time I have come to this meeting there is some kind of controversy over the warrant articles or the budget. This year it was pretty calm despite some harsh words from some friends and neighbors. The great thing was we all walked out friends. I am hoping we have put behind us the unpleasantry of the chief's employment contract and whatever divisions we have between our towns. Pat Clark was re-elected and we approved a well constructed budget. The disappointing part of this entire evening was there was no communication from our chief, Budget Committee or commissioner on the state of affairs of the district. No discussion (outside of statistics in the annual report) about anything. How about telling us about some accomplishments or great rescues... anything? It always seems like it is a one-way conversation. Some friends and neighbors took to the microphone to voice concerns, ask about line items in the budget, ask questions of Pat Clark and Jane Alden and a question for the chief. Seriously, when our very skilled moderator, Kent Finemore, read the warrant for the budget and it was brought to the floor with NO presentation from either the Budget Committee or the commissions, I was stunned. At least guide us through the highlights of the increases, decreases, challenges and disagreements between the two entities. What did we hear after Kent asked for discussion...? Crickets! Next year, can you please prepare a brief presentation so we have a starting point discussion and we can better understand the warrants and budget? Thanks.
The highlights from the School District meeting were sparse. We voted to support the football program with $1 for safety of the kids. $1 might seem like a small amount, but what that does is allows the school board to put much more money in that line item only for the safety of the kids and ONLY for this coming school year. A lot of folks thought this was an "end run" to fully fund the program in the future. It might well be, now that this line item has been created. However, it is for one year while the Football Feasibility Committee convenes and spends more time with the athletic director working on this issue and making a recommendation to the school board. Let's see what they come up with before we decide either way. It will be another hot button issue next year. I would be remiss if I did not mention the passionate comments of Valerie Kehr regarding the treatment of the Music and Arts Program compared to athletics. Valerie made a great point that more kids participate in music and arts than athletics and can claim an equal or even higher level of usefulness in future life than athletics. She also mentioned that a lot of the kids who participate in theater, arts and music often have to purchase their own supplies, make their own sets and instruments. Why should we not ask that of our athletes? Excellent points, Val!
The other hot issue surrounded merit pay for the non-unionized employees. The school board has been pushed by us for years to establish this for not only non-union but also unionized employees. They finally have done it. The amount they chose for the pool was 4 percent maximum. Friends and neighbors disagreed on that amount and justifiably stated they were not saying those people did not deserve a 4 percent raise but it was not what the district could afford. In the end, the 125 in attendance (pitiful turnout) left the budget alone with the 4 percent in.
Speaking of raises and unionized employees, I hope everyone had a chance to read the story last week about the negotiations between the school district and our teachers. In case you missed it, they hit impasse and the teachers do not have a contract. NO ONE can say our school board does not care about teachers. Did you see what the teachers turned down? Three years of raises that totaled nearly $1,000,000! Plus higher starting pay and higher retirement benefits for recently retiring teachers. The school board wanted to eliminate the multi-level step program that automatically increases teachers' pay just for years of service and level of education. And the teachers said NO? I'm glad this was made public and congratulate the school board for making these negotiations public. I wonder if the teachers know about this.
I also congratulate the Budget Committee for their tireless and thankless work this past year. This might seem self serving as I am about to rejoin the committee for another 3-year term following a 2-year absence. I am looking forward to the work and thank all those who cast a vote for me. I will serve you well. I am also very accessible. Call or e-mail me anytime.
Great to see everyone who turned out this year. Until next year...
Keith D. Murray