RUMFORD — By a 4-1 vote, selectmen at Thursday night's special board meeting agreed to recommend $35,000 as the 2010-11 Welfare Budget, and reduce office hours for the general assistance program to whatever a salary of $10,000 would cover.
Additionally, because Mexico subcontracts their general assistance program to Rumford, paying $5,000 annually, the board included Selectman Jeff Sterling's idea to closely monitor costs associated with doing so for six months and bill Mexico accordingly in the future.
Selectmen also voted 4-1 against calling a petition-initiated special town meeting to re-vote Black Mountain ski resort's initiated article request for $51,000 in funding that a majority of town meeting voters killed last month, agreeing instead to raise zero dollars.
That means ski hill officials must now get 500 signatures on a petition to force selectmen to call a special town meeting to re-vote the matter.
Only a few people at the sparsely attended meeting spoke to both issues.
Selectman Greg Buccina suggested creating a general assistance ordinance that would put people who seek welfare to work to get benefits.
“Welfare is designed to be a hand-up, and not a way of life,” Buccina said.
He also suggested that the general assistance office be open 12 hours a week instead of 35, switch from a full-time director with benefits to a part-time person without benefits, and raise $25,000 as the Welfare Budget, which, with $5,760 in wages would total $30,760.
The ordinance, he said would institute a 90-day residency in Rumford before people could seek general assistance.
Voters have rejected raising and appropriating $70,021 in June, and $60,000 this month for the budget.
After considerable discussion, Selectman Mark Belanger motioned to return Mexico's general assistance administration back to Mexico, reduce general assistance office hours to six a week, and go with a budget of $30,000, with $5,000 of that dedicated to wages for a part-time director.
Town Manager Carlo Puiia said the downside would be if they dropped helping Mexico, that could bode bad down the road for future regionalization efforts, especially where Rumford may soon ask to share Mexico's code enforcement officer.
After more discussion and Sterling's suggestion, Belanger amended his motion to continue doing Mexico's general assistance work for six months to determine real costs involved.
Additionally, he sought to reduce the general assistance directors hours to eight a week with a salary of $5,000, but Puiia said he believes it will be hard to find a skilled person to do the work and pay to train someone.
Selectmen Brad Adley and Sterling said limiting hours may mean essential work like background checks failing to get done.
“If we limit the hours, we might end up with less people needing assistance,” Belanger countered.
That's when Belanger motioned to continue doing Mexico's welfare work for six months, and approve a $35,000 welfare budget of which $10,000 would be the director's salary. Selectman Jeremy Volkernick was the lone dissenter.
As for the Black Mountain petition, Black Mountain Board of Directors president Roger Arsenault read a prepared statement pointing out what the resort means to the town, including that it has seasonably employed more than 65 workers.
“Black Mountain will face severe consequences without the town's help,” Arsenault said.
Despite an appeal from Chummy Broomhall “to figure out if it's worth keeping Black Mountain,” Sterling and Belanger said they don't believe it triggers the “critical circumstance” requirement to convene a special town meeting for a re-vote.
Adley and Buccina, who lobbied for the ski resort initially, said they wouldn't go against the wishes of the majority vote in June. Hence, they all voted against Volkernick's motion to schedule the meeting and re-vote.
Volkernick argued that if Black Mountain closes, it would do irreparable harm to economic development in town.