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Raises Proposed for All Cornish Town Workers

Brett Bartolotta, left, and Frank Meyer

Brett Bartolotta, left, and Frank Meyer

Cornish school meeting will be held Saturday, March 9 at 1 p.m. in the Cornish Elementary School gym. Ballot voting for elected officials will open at 10 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Cornish Town Meeting will begin at noon on Tuesday, March 12 in the Cornish Elementary School gym. Ballot voting for elected officials will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Residents will be asked to approve raises for all town employees and settle a pair of contested races for key governing bodies during upcoming town and school meetings.

Voters will not be presented with a new teachers contract, however, after negotiations recently broke down.

The proposed general fund budget is roughly level at $372,000, though it includes a 2 percent pay increase for most town employees.

Some employees in the Cornish Police Department are in line for increases of 6 to 8 percent, Selectboard Chairman John Hammond said, after presenting information suggesting they were underpaid relative to comparable positions in other police departments.

“We felt we could feel good about giving them a raise,” Hammond said. “We’re trying to get them so ... we are right in the middle of a comparison list.”

The proposed highway budget would increase 6 percent from the current year to $483,000. Last year brought a difficult mud season, and the department ran out of money rapidly trying to fill in ravaged roads, Hammond said.

If all spending articles pass, the town property tax rate would rise about 24 cents, to $2.77 per $1,000 of assessed value, meaning the owner of a $250,000 property would see a $693 town tax bill, $60 more than this year.

Larry Dingee, a 12-year Selectboard veteran, is seeking a new three-year term on the board. He is being challenged by Scott Baker .

Dingee, 57, owner of Dingee Machine Co., which builds fire trucks, said he opposes the proposed raises for town employees because he was concerned that tax rate was increasing beyond the means of many residents.

“I continue to be aware of the economic struggles that so many people these days and do what is possible to keep the tax (low),” Dingee said. “I’m always concerned when the proposed tax rate goes up.”

Baker could not be reached for comment.

On the school side, the $3.7 million budget proposal is up less than 3 percent from the current year’s, SAU 6 Business Director Tim Ball said. The increase, he said, is due to same budgetary pressures that are squeezing many New Hampshire communities : The school district has had to increase its contribution to the state retirement system, and the school is seeing increasing costs for special education and employee health insurance.

“Nobody is adding teachers or doing anything funny,” Ball said.

If school spending articles are approved, the school tax rate would rise about 86 cents, to $15.12 per $1,000 of assessed value. That translates to a tax bill on a $250,000 property of $3,780, an increase of $215 .

Merilynn Bourne, an incumbent Selectboard member, is running for a seat on the School Board. She is opposed by Glenn Thornton for a three-year term. Karen Jameson is not seeking for re-election.

Bourne, the executive director of Listen Community Services, said she is concerned that teachers are not being paid enough.

“I’m a big advocate for teachers” Bourne, 66, said. “Like other residents, I don’t want to pay teachers who aren’t doing a good job, but I don’t think we have any like that. I think they are compensated low. I know taxpayers are feeling the pinch, but we can’t sacrifice the future of our kids for that.”

Thornton, a senior implementation consultant with Orion Health, has lived in town for 13 years and said that he was involved with the school, attending board meetings and volunteering at school functions and sports leagues, before his two young children began attending Cornish Elementary. He also said he was responsible for administering the Cornish Elementary School website.

“We thought it was important to understand and be part of the schools direction, focus and vision so that we would best know how to prepare them for the future,” Thornton, 45, said. “I feel we need to stay focused on what is required to ensure our kids get a good quality education. But at the same time keep our costs ... at a sustainable level to prevent any hardships for our community. I have a great admiration for ‘attention to detail,’ which is why I feel that I have a well-rounded knowledge of what it takes to be a board member. I also feel that everyone should have an opportunity to voice and share their thoughts, ideas and opinions.”

Bourne’s daughter-in-law Christine Bourne is a teacher and lead negotiator for the teachers union, and Thornton’s wife is a paraeducator at the school.

Officials had hoped to present voters with a new teachers contract to ratify , but negotiations have reached an impasse .

Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin said that the School Board proposed a 2 percent across the board raise but wanted teachers to revise language dictating how staffing levels would be reduced should cuts be necessary. Current language calls for decisions based largely on seniority, which the board members wanted to get away from in favor of a more merit-based system.

According to McGoodwin, the teachers countered with a so-called “Step” increase — which brings base pay up a level depending on years of experience and would have been more expensive than the general two percent boost — and were unwilling to change language governing staff reductions.

“Things did not go well because the Cornish (teachers) wanted an increase in compensation but were unwilling to compromise with any change in language,” McGoodwin said. “It was a matter of, ‘We’ll take the money, but don’t ask for any change.’ ”

Christine Bourne, in an interview, confirmed the details of the impasse, but added that teachers felt School Board members negotiated in bad faith, sometimes showing up late to negotiating sessions or unprepared, and were not serious about reaching a fair deal.

“The whole process was very frustrating from the get-go,” Christine Bourne said. “We love this community and it didn’t feel like we were asking for anything (unreasonable.) If you look around, there are many contracts that have been (including) both steps and a pay increase, and we were willing to go with steps only, so that seemed reasonable to us.”

New bargaining sessions could begin in the spring, McGoodwin said.

Mark Davis can be reached at mcdavis@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.

CORRECTION

This article has been amended to correct an earlier error. The following correction appeared in the Thursday, March 7 edition of the Valley News.

The proposed Cornish highway budget of $483,000 is up 6 percent from the current year. A story in Saturday's Valley News misstated the percentage increase.