AUBURN — County Commissioner Elaine Makas gave a heartfelt explanation Wednesday as to why she voted in the majority last week against ratifying the three-year contract for the Androscoggin County employees’ union, whose members have worked without a contract since 2012.

“I wanted to make sure that we had accurate figures, and I wanted to make sure that we knew exactly how much this motion would cost,” Makas said.

“So as somebody who voted — perhaps not the way people expected me to vote last week — it was because I was uncomfortable that we didn’t have the money or didn’t know how much this was going to cost,” she said.

Assured that funds exist to meet all obligations agreed to in the contract, the Androscoggin County Commission reversed itself and voted 5-2 to offer the Androscoggin County Employees Association the monetary terms of the original contract, negotiated in 2012.

That contract had been tied up in binding arbitration and by a court challenge by the county on a change of language sought by the union on disciplinary actions and firings. An arbitration panel ruled in favor of the union, but the county was successful last month in getting a judge to reverse that ruling.

“I’m glad the majority of the commissioners did what they did tonight,” said Sgt. Delbert Mason, president of the employees’ union. “Both sides have had a running battle between fact-finding, arbitration and language issues, but at the end of the day, we have a contract. We’re all happy.”

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Last week, Commissioner Randall Greenwood offered a new proposal that threw out the three-year contract and offered the union a one-year deal for 2016. It would pay employees the step increases they have been owed out of a $200,000 pool set aside by the commissioners. Any money remaining after the steps were paid would be shared by the current employees.

The $200,000 figure was determined to be the amount of money needed to pay the step increases, Makas said.

The offer angered members of the union.

“The offer that was presented last week took us into a whole new realm where there were areas we had never discussed,” Mason said. “It was a low blow.” 

Some of the commissioners were also unhappy with the proposal.

“We need to be fair and we need to recognize what they have done,” Alfreda Fournier said. “The terms of the contract that they signed were promised to them. They worked the hours. They worked without overtime and they worked without the steps. And they came to work every day. It’s a dangerous job. They have a lot riding on this. We owe it to them to be fair.”

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After last week’s meeting, Makas asked County Administrator Larry Post and Treasurer Robert Poulin to determine how much was required to meet the financial terms of the contract. The step increases, a 1.5 percent raise plus overtime and holiday pay will cost the county $261,000, Post said.

“I’m confident that we now know how much it’s going to cost us to give these steps and to give them increases, and we have the money to do it,” Makas said.

Makas and Commissioner Beth Bell switched votes to join Chairman Ronald Chicoine, Sally Christner and Fournier in supporting Makas’ motion to offer the union the original three-year contract with one exception — changing the language on disciplinary issues that would revert to the previous contract that the county had fought to keep.

Opposing the motion were Greenwood and Matthew Roy.

Greenwood was troubled by the uncertainty in future funding for the jails, which makes up the largest piece of the sheriff’s budget. He stressed that he supported giving employees their step increases with the $200,000 cap but did not feel he could go any further.

“I’m concerned with raising base pay and base wages since (the jails) have been flat-funded for a good number of years,” Greenwood said. “I’m still uncomfortable with this, and I don’t think I can support this.”

Chicoine and Mason expressed relief after the meeting that the contract was settled, but they understood they have little time to relax. The three-year contract just ratified expires at the end of this year. Their goal is to have a less contentious bargaining process.

“We have some people who are fired up to do that,” Chicoine said. “So hopefully, it’s a genial process and we can move forward in a positive way.”

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