SKOWHEGAN – With the details of the economic impact of a new labor contract decided just minutes before its Wednesday night public hearing, the Somerset County Budget Committee took no action on passing the 2001 proposed budget.
The public hearing was held at 7 p.m. in the Superior Court room, just minutes after an unannounced labor negotiation meeting between the county commissioners and the Teamsters Union 340.
According to Budget Committee Chairman D. Dwight Dogherty, a new three-year agreement was reached between the union representatives and the county. The contract reportedly could eliminate up to $100,000 from the proposed budget.
Although the proposed contract reflects a 12-percent wage increase on average, it also includes a new health insurance package that will save the county about $35,000 annually for the next three years._ “We felt we could not accept a budget when we didn’t know the economic impact of that contract,” Dogherty said. He said the new union contract would affect both compensation and insurance areas of the 2001 budget. “We need to know that impact,” he said.
If union members do not ratify the new contract by Jan. 1, 2001, Dogherty said the county will operate, under state law, at 80 percent of last year’s budget figures. He said that if the commissioners unanimously agree to their proposed budget, it could pass and only be overridden by a two-thirds majority of the budget committee.
“They cannot do that, however,” said Dogherty, “because [Commissioner Robert Garland] is unable to speak or write.”
Garland recently suffered a stroke that has left him unable to communicate, Dogherty said, and he is being cared for at a rehabilitation center.
Dogherty said that if the financial data on the new contract numbers becomes available, the budget committee will set a new public hearing date and resolve the issue.
“At this point, we are just waiting for more reliable figures,” he said.
As proposed, next year’s county budget is $4.6 million, including $869,420 for unorganized territories. Both at a recent commissioners’ meeting and on Wednesday night, Doreen Sheive questioned some of the budget expenditures.
Sheive is the state’s fiscal administrator for unorganized territories and has repeatedly objected to the county paying for part of dam repairs at Kingsbury Dam, as well as a 25 percent increase in pay for the county’s road consultant, without putting that position out for bid.
She also criticized the county commissioners on an escalating snow-grooming budget, which she said is more than 10 times higher than other counties.
Somerset has budgeted $29,000 for snow grooming for 2001, said Sheive, while other counties spend approximately $2,300.