WATERVILLE — City councilors plan to explore the possibility of negotiating one-year contracts instead of three-year contracts with unions representing police, firefighters, public works and clerk-secretarial employees.

The topic arose Tuesday at the council’s first of several special meetings to discuss proposed budgets for city departments. Council Chairman Steve Soule, D-Ward 1, initiated discussion of reducing the length of union contracts.

“I think the council should take a stand and only do one-year contracts,” he said.

Councilors had been talking about the city’s Finance Department budget Tuesday, and Finance Director Heather Rowden said the cost of group health insurance has increased across the board. The proposed department budget is $383,000, with a little more than 93 percent of that budget associated with personnel, according to City Manager Michael Roy. He said health insurance rates for the city went up 15 percent Jan. 1.

“The increases that you see in the Finance Department, which is about 3.2 percent total, are salaries and health insurance,” Roy said.

That’s when Soule said that last year councilors talked about possibly negotiating one-year contracts with unions and he thinks that change should occur.

“We don’t know what health insurance will be the second year, so it’s a guessing game,” he said.

Mayor Nick Isgro said he agreed with Soule and asked the council to talk about the issue.

“It would be great to get some council discussion on some of these ideas and get some commitment from the council,” he said. He asked if there was consensus on the council regarding the contract issue.

Roy said it will be discussed in executive session Tuesday at the council’s regular meeting. The city has 109 employees and 83 are members of a union, according to Roy. All contracts with unions have been for three-year terms, he said.

Councilor Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, said he supports having one-year contracts. Councilor Winifred Tate, D-Ward 6, asked about the reasons for having a one-year as opposed to a three-year contract.

“I’d rather talk about the risks and benefits in executive session next week,” Roy said.

About 30 people turned out for the budget workshop, where the proposed Health and Welfare Department budget also was discussed early in the session.

The proposed municipal and school budget for 2017-18 is $39.7 million, a $928,261 increase over the $38.8 million budget for 2016-17. With an increase of $2.17 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation, the current $22.80 tax rate would increase to $24.97.

If a person’s home is worth $100,000, for instance, he or she paid $2,280 in property taxes for a year. If the proposed budget were to be approved as is, he or she would pay $2,497 — an increase of $217.

Meanwhile, Health and Welfare Director Linda Fossa on Tuesday received accolades for her 36 years working for the city.

“I want to applaud Linda. Linda, you basically are as fiscally minded as can be,” Mayhew said.

Roy added that a month ago the state audited her department, as it has done for the last 36 years.

“A clean audit — which is very important,” Roy said.

She received applause from city officials and the audience.

Meanwhile, Isgro, Mayhew and Councilor Nick Champagne, D-Ward 5, recommended that hours of city employees who float to other departments should be reflected in the hours of the departments to which they float, for more accurate department budgets. For instance, a worker from the Health and Welfare Department who works 45 percent of her time in other departments currently has her hours kept in the Health and Welfare Department budget. Officials insisted they be tallied in the departments worked.

“It’s a matter of accuracy,” Isgro said.

Councilors also were to review planning, code enforcement, economic development and firefighting budgets Tuesday.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

 

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