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Merrimack puts wage increases in budget

Union Leader Correspondent

February 15. 2013 10:32PM

MERRIMACK - Town councilors this week adopted the proposed 2013-14 budget that will be presented to voters, but not before authorizing a few wage adjustments for city employees.

In a last minute change, Councilor Dan Dwyer proposed a $1,500 bonus for all full-time, non-union employees, in addition to a 73 cents per hour wage adjustment for all part-time, non-union employees.

According to Dwyer, Merrimack's non-union city workers have only received penny increases in recent years, maintaining they work hard and deserve to be compensated. His recommendation came on the heels of new, tentative collective bargaining agreements with city unions that offer the same wage adjustments.

Councilor Tom Koenig said he would like to offer the salary increases, but questioned the 73 cents hike for part-time workers, claiming that could be quite a percentage jump for employees making $10 an hour.

"They are only making $10 an hour - that is the point," argued Dwyer, asking his fellow colleagues to support the increase. Still, Koenig said he couldn't agree with the proposal, which was ultimately approved by the council with a 6-1 vote.

Town Manager Eileen Cabanel said the full-time, non-union city workers have been paying 10 percent of their health insurance costs since 2009 or 2010, adding she supports the $1,500 bonus to compensate for the health insurance concessions. "It is a one-year action," she explained.

The wage adjustments for both full-time and part-time non-union city workers accounts for an $84,050 increase to the proposed budget. However, councilors on Thursday made several tweaks to the budget to keep the bottom line the same, and to keep the estimated tax rate level.

The budget that will appear before voters for final approval is $28,725,477, which will make the town portion of the tax rate $5.25 per $1,000 of assessed valuation - the same tax rate estimated during last year's budget season.

It is important to note, however, that although last year's tax rate was set at $5.25, Cabanel explained that because of an additional $12 million calculated for the town's overall value due to the new Merrimack Premium Outlets, last year's tax rate was actually closer to $5.14.

"We had some real challenges facing us," she said Thursday during a public hearing on the budget, noting an increase of about $850,000 for health insurance costs and retirement costs.

If the proposed $28.7 million budget is approved by voters, the tax rate is expected to remain steady at $5.25 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. For a typical home assessed at $300,000, their property tax bill will be about $7,000, with a portion of that - about $1,572 - representing the local municipal taxes.

"The default budget results in an increased tax rate," explained Cabanel, adding the proposed budget is about $571,000 less than the default budget.

Dwyer said he was concerned about the default budget being more than the proposed budget, maintaining local residents should be given an alternative budget that spends less than what is being recommended by the local government.

Tom Mahon, council chairman, said the default budget is not intended for that purpose. "I accept your answer, I just don't like it," said Dwyer.

The town deliberative session is planned for 7 p.m. March 13 at James Mastricola Upper Elementary School.

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