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.
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.