RUMFORD — Without determining ramifications of reducing the welfare budget by $10,000 and cutting office hours, selectmen at Thursday night's special board meeting threw out a number they hope townspeople will accept.
They also plan to do a better job of educating the public about General Assistance at an informational meeting on Thursday, July 1. For example, towns get reimbursed a certain percentage of what they spend.
Under the gun from a vote at the June 8 polls that rejected raising and appropriating $70,021, selectmen voted 4-1 to try $60,000 and reduce General Assistance Director Thelma Giberson's time from five to four days a week.
Chairman Brad Adley and Selectmen Greg Buccina, Mark Belanger and Jeff Sterling voted for the reduction on Belanger's motion; new Selectman Jeremy Volkernick opposed it.
Initially, selectmen attempted to learn how the welfare budget works, listening first to Mexico Town Manager John Madigan describe how Mexico handles the state-mandated law. Then, they had Giberson describe the process involved in trying to take care of townspeople in need.
“I'm amazed that the people voted it down, because it's illegal,” Madigan said of the 965-727 vote that rejected funding the welfare account.
“I don't believe the voters realized that a lot of that money in your budget is reimbursed. It's not really costing them that,” he said of the proposed $70,021.
Another thing he said most people don't realize is that General Assistance directors like Giberson actually put people to work. That's something that a part-time director or even a town manager would not be able to do, because it involves supervision, Madigan said.
“I would say as a resident, I have no problem with the $70,000 to help the needy in this community, and I hope the citizens of this town, if you present a number to them, rethink that,” Madigan said. “That's our obligation as a community, to help the people that are in need with a realistic number, and it's handled very professionally already.”
Madigan recommended keeping the same figure, but doing a better job of explaining why that amount was recommended by selectmen and the Finance Committee, or reducing it by a mere penny. He also said that Mexico pays Rumford $5,000 a year to have Giberson handle General Assistance in Mexico.
Belanger, however, said he didn't understand why Rumford couldn't have a part-time General Assistance director. He said that although the town budgeted $70,970 last year, it only spent $53,409, because more than $20,000 was reimbursed to the town by the state, Social Security and clients.
Volkernick asked Giberson to explain the process people go through when seeking General Assistance, to better understand how the budget is determined. He didn't believe an arbitrary number should be thrown out for the budget. He also said he had an issue with people who live outside Rumford coming to the town for assistance.
Giberson, however, said if Rumford doesn't help them, the town would not get reimbursed by the state and Social Security.
When asked the amount that a town is obligated to raise for welfare, Giberson said towns can pick any number they want, but they have to understand that if the account is over-drafted, that money would come out of the general fund.
Belanger then suggested having her work part-time to save costs. Giberson said that if that happened, she would quit.