Alstead selectmen warn town employees of cutbacks ...
ALSTEAD — Worries about next year’s budget have prompted the Alstead Board of Selectmen to warn employees of possible staffing cuts next year and to encourage them to seek jobs outside the town.
In a letter sent with employees’ paychecks last week, selectmen told the town’s six full-time employees their jobs face cutbacks after the 2015 budgeting process.
“We are just one medium sized economic surprise away from drastic and immediate changes,” the letter said. “It is certain that town staffing will look different in 2015, perhaps sooner.”
The selectmen also warned that the town could not guarantee continued health care coverage for its employees.
The selectmen held a nonpublic meeting of the town’s employees at the town offices Tuesday night to discuss the details of the letter and possible changes to staffing and health care. While the state’s Right-to-Know law allows for the board to meet in secret for some personnel-related matters, the selectmen did not cite such an exemption before holding the meeting, and did not vote in public to enter the nonpublic session, as required by state law. A Sentinel reporter’s objection to the handling of the matter was dismissed by the three selectmen.
At a public meeting following the nonpublic meeting with employees, the town’s three selectmen — Joel C. McCarty, Michael Jasmin and Matthew D. Saxton — said they have made no plans to cut specific positions, and they are researching possible alternatives to the town’s health insurance provider before making any decision to cut benefits.
Saxton said the announcement was prompted only by the board’s desire to give ample warning to employees who might be offered employment elsewhere.
“The potential is for Alstead to not have anything like the staffing it has now,” he said at the meeting.
The town employs six full-time workers who receive health insurance benefits, and more than 50 part-time workers. The town has already notified two part-time plow drivers they will not be hired this winter.
Alerting the employees now to the staffing and health coverage uncertainties is better than waiting until next year’s budget deliberations to tell them, Saxton said.
“That’s not fair to them,” he said at the meeting.
One full-time employee, who worked in the town’s transfer station and the highway division, will leave Alstead after this week to work in another municipality. He will not be replaced.
“That helps our situation a little bit because we’re not paying him or buying his health insurance,” Saxton said. “There’s been enough uncertainty over this that if it were me, I’d be looking elsewhere, too.”
The board has requested help from a “navigator” employed under the federal Affordable Care Act, who will advise it on possible alternatives to town-provided health insurance under the new health care law for full-time employees who do stay with the town next year.
In an interview before Tuesday’s meeting, Saxton cited public pressure from Alstead residents to cut spending as a reason for the uncertainty.
Of the town’s roughly 1,200 registered voters, 178 came to a February deliberative session of the town meeting to push for more than $344,000 in cuts to the budget and eliminate a number of proposed allocations. They passed a slimmed-down 2014 budget largely as a reaction to a 2013 tax hike of 19 percent over the previous year.
“There is this constant drum of less, less, less,” Saxton said.
He also said that two spending requirements that will likely be in next year’s budget — workers compensation dues that were offset last year by a refund, and the projected cost of a five-year property revaluation — would tighten the budget further.
Alstead Department of Public Works Director David L. Crosby said he had received the letter, and that he had taken the news in stride.
“It’s business as usual,” he told The Sentinel after the meeting. “We’ll get through it.”