RUMFORD — Four of seven members of the Finance Committee deviated Wednesday night from the Board of Selectmen's budget recommendation on General Assistance last month.
The four members increased the board's recommendation of $69,469 to $75,475.
They also restored Director Thelma Giberson's five-day work week from a three-day week. Selectmen voted to increase it from three to four days.
The other three committee dissenters voted against the $75,475 figure, because they wanted it raised even higher, Ted Hotham, committee vice chairman, said.
“It's about time we got Thelma caught up, because it's been awhile,” Hotham said. “It's now up to us and taxpayers in town to step up and do the right thing.”
Two years ago, a majority of town meeting voters cut Giberson's wage of $17.56 an hour to $12 an hour and reduced her five-day week to a three-day week, seven hours a day.
Since then, Giberson has requested each year at budget time that her wage be reset to what she was getting in 2009-10 when it was cut. Currently, she gets $15 an hour, three days a week.
On March 22, selectmen took an incremental approach trying to restore it over time, believing town meeting voters in June wouldn't go for the whole amount.
After much discussion and attempts to find an agreeable number, a majority recommended a total budget of $69,469. That gives the 21-year director an hourly wage of $16.50.
The Finance Committee's recommendation restores Giberson's hourly wage to $17.56, Hotham said.
“She brings a lot of expertise to the job and years of experience and due diligence on each applicant request, so just on that alone she saves us money,” he said.
“And she's got 21 years and I think we have to be respectful of employees who hang in there in spite of adversity,” he said.
Hotham said selectmen increased the amount that was allocated for Giberson for General Assistance.
“The manager asked for $64,622, the select board appropriated $69,469, and we approved $75,475 and with that extra money, she goes to a five-day work week,” he said.
“Instead of having two days with that office empty and others that are less experienced to have to fill in, I'm encouraged that we might be able to get this turned around,” he said.
Hotham said it will take educating the public to help them better understand what Giberson does.
“Nobody likes to have to deal with General Assistance, but every day, the need grows here, and she's going to have to tell some 55 families that the state just told her that they're no longer covered,” he said.
“So it's a tough job to sit there and listen to everyone's tale of woe, and we all have one, but she's an excellent employee and an asset and that needs to be recognized. It's not a universal view, but that was our view,” he said.
Hotham said the committee's wage restoration doesn't represent a 2 percent increase or adjustment that selectmen have recommended for many town employees this year.
“It puts her right back at what it was before it was reduced,” he said.
“If it (gets approved) like we hope it does, we're probably going to be back next year to give her a cost-of-living increase like everybody else is getting.”