Claremont Council Approves Additional Welfare Funding
Claremont — The City Council last night unanimously — albeit reluctantly for a few councilors — voted to add $35,000 to the welfare budget to cover direct assistance needs through the end of 2012.
The vote came after some councilors, Chris Irish and Nick Koloski in particular, said they were prepared to vote no and force the state to address the burdens it places on cities and towns.
“I want to poke that bear as much as possible,” said councilor Chris Irish, referring to challenging the state.
But city attorney Jane Taylor told the council a no vote could result in an eligible individual being denied welfare, which could lead to criminal prosecution against Finance Director Mary Walter.
“She (Walter) would be removed from office and prosecuted for a misdemeanor,” Taylor said. “It is serious.”
Taylor later said welfare cases before the state Supreme Court usually end up with the court saying, “Municipality, you were wrong. Pay the bill.”
Even if the council voted no, the city is obligated to pay but City Manager Guy Santagate said he would not allow the city to expend money not approved by the council.
Councilor Vic Bergeron, who has been vocal in his criticism of the over expenditures of the welfare budget, said the risk to the city employees was not the way to go.
“We can’t do this to these people,” Bergeron said.
Councilor Roger Formidoni thought the council’s ire was misdirected.
“If we vote no, we are shooting the messenger and putting city employees at risk,” he said.
The council’s concerns about the welfare law are a discussion for another time, Formidoni added.
Walter noted that this year’s additional appropriation is about a third of the more than $100,000 approved last year and annually the extra funding request has averaged about $40,000 over the last several years.
Welfare Director Sue Carr said her caseload is down 15 percent this year and also told the council that those who apply do not automatically receive assistance.
“They have to be eligible. I have quite an application process,” she said. “We’re not assisting everyone, but if they are eligible we have to help.”
Bergeron reminded his fellow councilors that during the budget review last month they agreed to revisit the welfare issue with a more in-depth discussion in January that would also include newly elected state representatives.
The additional $35,000 brings this year’s direct assistance budget to $290,000, which is about $50,000 less than the assistance total for 2011.
Patrick O’Grady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.