Rumford board struggles with General Assistance budget

RUMFORD — Emotions ran a bit high at times during Thursday night's attempt by selectmen to settle on a final budget recommendation for town meeting in June.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

During General Assistance budget talks Thursday night, Rumford Selectman Jeremy Volkernick reacts to a back-and-forth heated discussion with Selectman Jolene Lovejoy over whether her use of the terms "wage adjustment" constituted a raise like Volkernick was calling it. He then threw up his hands and said he wouldn't support a $1-an-hour raise.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

Rumford Selectmen Chairman Greg Buccina, left, waits during budget work Thursday night for Town Manager Carlo Puiia to determine the General Assistance budget total and a discussion about how much to pay its director.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

While Rumford Town Manager Carlo Puiia listens at center during budget work Thursday night on the General Assistance budget, Selectman Jolene Lovejoy, right, raises her voice while attempting to reason with Selectman Chairman Greg Buccina, left. Lovejoy did eventually broker a compromise on the budget, with Buccina dissenting.

By 9:30 p.m., they had only worked through a third of the departments and accounts, stumbling for about an hour over the General Assistance budget.

Like she did last year, Director Thelma Giberson asked to have her wage rate reinstated to what the 21-year town employee was getting in 2009-10: $17.56 an hour.

Two years ago, a majority of town meeting voters eventually cut that to $12 an hour and reduced her five-day week to a three-day week, seven hours a day.

Giberson is currently making $15 an hour.

Selectman Jolene Lovejoy started discussion by trying to convince Chairman Greg Buccina and Selectmen Jeff Sterling and Jeremy Volkernick that it's the town's responsibility to try to help its townspeople who are seeking assistance due to the tough economy.

Selectman Brad Adley was absent.

Not everybody gets assistance, but that doesn't lessen the amount of work Giberson does, Lovejoy said.

Sterling motioned for $15.75 an hour and adding going to a four-day week, which would make the General Assistance budget $68,377.

That died for lack of a second.

Lovejoy again defended Giberson and said she should be paid more due to how many years she'd worked for Rumford.

That drew a heated exchange with Volkernick.

“All the town employees do a great job,” he said. “People are having a hard time. We've got people putting their lives on the line every day and they're underpaid.”

He then said he wouldn't support giving a 75-cent or $1 or more raise an hour.

“You're not giving that person a raise,” Lovejoy said. “It's a wage adjustment.”

“It's a wage adjustment?” Volkernick asked. “Jolene, we set the wages. We are giving people 50 cents, 75 cents, a dollar an hour.”

Town Manager Carlo Puiia said Giberson went from $17.56 an hour to $12 an hour.

“And that was wrong,” Buccina said.

“It's the voters choice and it is our responsibility to put something out there that will pass,” Lovejoy said.

Lovejoy then told Buccina that the board previously gave the tax collector position a dollar-an-hour raise.

“I didn't,” Volkernick said. “I was the only one who voted against that.”

Lovejoy acknowledged this, and then told Buccina they just gave acting Tax Collector Thomas Bourret a $40,000 wage.

“That's for someone just coming in and he may not have one day of experience if he gets elected,” Lovejoy said.

She again reiterated they were paying a 21-year employee less.

Buccina told her she was comparing apples to oranges.

Sterling then tried to broker peace, saying they can't get Giberson's wages back to where they think they should be. He recommended an incremental approach over three years.

“I think if we recommend to voters the whole enchilada, we're not going to get it,” he said.

“I think it's grossly unfair,” Lovejoy said.

After more discussion, Lovejoy motioned for $17.56 an hour and adding another day. It took a while to get a second, but then died in a 2-2 tie.

More talks led to a motion for a compromise wage of $16.50 and a total budget of $69,469, and a fourth day.

“I don't like it, but I'll go along with it,” Volkernick said.

"She got a pay cut, Jeremy," resident Kevin Saisi said from his seat in the audience.

"That doesn't matter," Volkernick shot back. "The voters gave her that."

The board then approved it, voting 3-1, with Buccina dissenting.

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Tony Capola's picture

General Assistance

The people of the Town of Rumford need to know that Ms. Giberson works very hard to be certain that only qualified applicants are receiving assistance. More importantly she does so under very difficult circumstances. She works a lot of extra hours, sometimes without compensation, and too often without any show of appreciation. Not many of us would tolerate what she does. We all have stories about people we believe are 'cheating' the system but perception is not always real. Too many of us are quick to assume that ALL recipients of assistance (welfare) are lazy or out to cheat the system. There’s little doubt that, in some respects, this is true. Thankfully, Ms Giberson’s diligence helps to manage abuse to the extent possible. All too often her hands are tied by both State and Federal guidelines. We’d all love to see the need for these programs go away but that’s not likely to happen. In the meantime I want to thank Thelma for her efforts on our behalf.

here we go again!

The town of Rumford and Mexico make it so easy to get general assistance. That is why other towns pay taxi fares to bring them here so they don't have them. General asistance office does not need to be open 5 days a week. There was manipulation when the people voted to cut that office as to give the director working hours in other offices. Did the people vote for that? NO! It was done. We saved nothing.What will Rumford do when general assistance from the State is cut off or lessoned? Ms Lovejoy helps create our open door policy for this department but yet closes it to business growth. Let her donate her pay as selectperson to the general welfare office. Let her pay for the additional $13000.00 it adds to the salary line. And the people put her in office. Or did the two selectpersons transferring numbers without new town clerk present and verifying properly put her in? Once again people I have to say NO! Vote NO! and if No wins and the manipulation continues it means that your vote doesn't count.

Mark Belanger's picture

Vote NO

I hope the people of this Town are paying attention. This will be a $13,000 increase over last year. Watch the other departments and how they will be increased as well. The only thing that grows is the public sector. Like I have said it is easy to spend other peoples money.. You can take charge by voting NO....

Kevin Saisi's picture


It seems that when the General Assistance budget was cut for this fiscal year, Ms. Giberson took a $5.56 per hour pay reduction. How many of you would tolerate such a thing? The pay rate they approved is within the range of pay rates for people doing the same job in other similar sized communities, with as much experience. I haven't looked into the workload, so I cannot address the number of hours she needs to serve both Rumford and Mexico. I do know that a 1/3 reduction in pay rate is not acceptable. We need to be fair in dealing with town employees.


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