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March 06. 2013 10:51PM

Proposals to help Conway library hire chief fall flat

CONWAY - The proposed 2013 operating budget of $9,686,674 for the town of Conway was put on the warrant Monday night at the deliberative session at Kennett High School, after two attempts to amend that figure higher failed to get enough support.

Town Manager Earl Sires said the budget is up 2.8 percent in town administration and functions, or $163,342, 7.5 percent, or $230,943, for the police department and the budget for the Conway Public Library set at last year's figure of $465,115.

Conway Public Library trustees' case for more funding was hurt from the fallout of last fall's attempt to reorganize its staff. That reorganization would have effectively terminated four employees on short notice, requiring them to reapply to the library for positions with new job descriptions. After public outcry, the reorganization was nixed, and in the ensuing controversy the library director resigned, leaving with a negotiated severance package.

The trustees had said they would use the line item for the director salary to pay for the severance agreement, delaying hiring a new director.

Trustee Sarah Charles, who made a motion that failed 65-44, said an additional $12,312 would allow the trustees to hire a new director in May, instead of waiting until July. She noted that the trustees did not increase hours as originally planned. The trustees were seeking an $18,712 increase, but the selectmen declined to include that in the board's proposed budget.

Conway Municipal Budget Committee member Bill Marvel was the most outspoken in his objection to the amendments, saying that the trustees had "basically bribed her to resign." The former director was getting a salary of $54,000, and that, plus continued health insurance, was the severance package both sides agreed to.

Trustee Ted Sares said the library workers are stressed due to the short staffing. When Charles' motion failed, Sares made a motion to add $9,000 to the library budget. That failed also, 65-44.

Marvel said he didn't want a director hired when the trustees are still "in the clutches of the present chairman." Marvel, who writes a column for the Conway Daily Sun, has repeatedly called for the resignation of the chair, Linda Fox Phillips.

Marvel is running for one of the open seats on the board.

"We need to get beyond all the emotion," said Syndi White, who represents the school board on the budget committee.

An article for $50,000 capital reserve fund for landfill expansion was amended down to $1, after Paul Degliangeli, the public works director, said Phase II of the landfill had lasted several more years than expected, and that there are adequate funds for the Phase III expansion.

Though there was discussion on the individual and special warrant articles, they were placed unchanged on the warrant. The request from nonprofits is $198,615, with the total for the individual warrant articles almost $1.1 million.

An article to establish an expandable trust fund for the purpose of police department earned benefits was defended by Conway police officials. It was noted that personnel do not have any short-term disability benefits, so the number of sick days are important to tide officers over, if the condition warrants, until long-term benefits kick in.

Lt. Christopher Perley noted that new hires accrue sick days at a rate of one a month, older employees at 1.25 a month, and that in recent years the total days officers can accumulate has dropped from 90 to 60, something which police agreed to without getting anything in return. That drop, he said, will save the town $162,000 in future payments.

"I think that's fairly significant," Perley said.

At the start of the meeting, Sires explained that much of the increase in the police budget was due to an increase in staffing that voters approved in April 2012.

The default budget is $9,602,530.



syoungknox@newstote.com

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