STRONG — Selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday night to give employees a 2.8 percent pay raise this year, offsetting it by having them pay for an increase in their health insurance premiums starting Feb. 1.

The vote came as the board continued developing a budget for 2019.

Selectman Rodney Cook suggested a combined percentage and merit-based pay increase would be more equitable. However, because selectmen do not evaluate the municipal staff, the option would have to be revisited for next year’s budget.

The total for all categories of insurance is expected to increase slightly, Selectman Rob Elliott said. He estimated last year’s $70,000 for all town insurances will increase by about $1,000 this fiscal year.

In other matters, Town Clerk Betsy DuBois presented a letter from Franklin County Economic and Community Development Consortium asking to meet with selectmen Jan. 22. The group includes nonprofit agencies that have been or will be cut from the county budget.

Representatives from the Franklin County Children’s Task Force, Franklin Economic Development Corp., Western Maine Community Action, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Service, Western Maine Community Action, Franklin County Adult Basic Education and Androscoggin Home Care and Hospice have been directed by county commissioners to appeal to towns for funding.

Selectman Mike Pond, who sits on the county Budget Committee, said not all the nonprofit groups on the list should be considered. Commissioners and the Budget Committee made the decision together, he said, and the criteria for county allocations has been revised. Some of these groups were told to raise matching grants before they would be eligible to receive funds, he said.

“Franklin County Children’s Task Force asked for zero dollars from the county,” Pond said. “So to find them at the top of the list I find a little bit untrue.”

Selectmen also reviewed costs related to the town’s technology department, including a new computer maintenance contract with Expenet Technologies in Farmington.

DuBois said some of the past year’s expenses were the result of not having a computer technician last year. Even though she and office manager Sandra Mitchell did not spend money, they had a long list of urgent issues that had to be addressed. The issues are handled by phone, with a technician making a trip to their office only when necessary.

“They’re pretty talented and know what they’re doing,” she said.

The dedicated technology account has been funded with franchise fees that average about $4,000 annually from Time Warner Cable, now Spectrum. Because of Federal Communications Commission changes, the company will stop paying the town any fees.

That account needs to be funded, selectmen agreed, but they had to find a way to save money.

DuBois and Mitchell will adding Bangor-based Harris Co.’s payroll software to their computer system.

Pond suggested the town pay for the TRIO payroll software and installation. Once it is installed, they could ask someone locally to do the training for much less that the $150 per hour Harris Co. would charge, he said.

“If we could find somebody local for $25 an hour … we could give it a whirl,” Pond said.


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