DOVER-FOXCROFT — Although a 1997 spending plan for the county was adopted last week, Piscataquis County commissioners revisited the budget Tuesday to discuss the county’s contribution to the Cooperative Extension Service.
The Extension Service asked commissioners on Tuesday to restore a $1,144 cut for secretarial help at the local Extension office in Dover-Foxcroft.
Commissioners appeared willing to discuss the budget request further if the Extension Service provided detailed information about benefits and past negotiations. Any proposed amendment to the adopted budget must first be presented to the county Budget Advisory Committee.
John Rebar, program administrator with the Extension Service, told commissioners Tuesday that unless the agency received its full funding request, the secretary for the busy three-agent office would work approximately 37 hours a week rather than a 40-hour week. This would constitute part-time employment, requiring the secretary to pay a portion of her health insurance coverage.
Last year, the county paid $15,700 of the $23,400 salary received by the former secretary who retired last month after 49 years of service. The difference in her salary and benefits were absorbed by the university.
A few years ago, the university discontinued its contribution to the salaries of new employees hired as secretarial support staff in county offices, even though these employees are considered university employees whose salaries and increases are set by collective bargaining. The university has continued to fund the benefit package for employees and will continue to absorb the increases in salaries and benefits for current support staff in county offices, but not for new employees.
Taking into account the new employee and the funding change at the university, the Extension Service requested $17,284 from Piscataquis County, which is the starting salary of a new support staff employee at the university.
Adopting the recommendation of the county’s Budget Advisory Committee, the commissioners reduced the funding to $16,140. Concern was expressed by both boards that the university was dictating to the county.
Commissioner Eben DeWitt said Tuesday that it disturbed him that the county had been told by the university that it must provide full support for the secretarial help. It also bothered him that the county would have no control over the salary for the secretary. “More support without any say just doesn’t wash,” he said. He said new county employees are required to pay up to 40 percent of their family insurance coverage. In addition, he compared the starting salary for clerical help in the county offices of $6.44 an hour to the $8.31 an hour paid at the university level.
Commissioners Tony Bartley and Gordon Andrews also expressed concern about the additional funds, fearing that a precedent would be set.
Rebar stressed that the Cooperative Extension Service had not taken part in the collective bargaining agreements but had to abide by them. He noted that the county does have the option of making the secretarial position into a county position.
“This is not the richest county in the state. We’re thinking of our constituents,” said Andrews. “Our hearts are in one place but on the other hand we have to look at reality.”