AUBURN — The Androscoggin County Commission is offering the union representing county employees a wage increase for 2016.

In a 5-2 vote, the commissioners approved a collective bargaining agreement that provides for a step increase on July 1, 2016, followed by a 1 percent wage increase effective the same day. The employees have been working without a contract and will be paid retroactively.

The Androscoggin County Employee Association will bring the proposal back to its members for a vote.

If accepted by the union, the contract, including benefits, will cost the county $126,393, County Administrator Larry Post said.

Discussion on the proposal got off to a testy start when Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales asked for a brief executive session to clarify the board’s offer to the union. Commission rules stipulate that a unanimous vote is required to move into executive session. That vote is normally a formality, but Commissioner Matthew Roy of Lewiston voted against the closed-door session.

Telling his colleagues that they already had discussed the matter for two months, Roy attempted to cut off discussion, but he was outvoted 4-3.

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Lary voiced concern about the contract’s impact on the county budget. Post had earlier reported that the Legislature had passed a supplemental budget that did not include additional money for the county jails that Androscoggin County and others were expecting to help balance their budgets.

Despite the setback, Post remained confident that the state will still provide the funding and that the county has the funds to cover the contract.

“Sometimes you just have to do the right thing,” Post said, calling the situation fluid. “At the end of the year, we should be OK.”

Trying to avoid discussing contract negotiations in an open session, Lary expressed frustration that he did not have figures in front of him to compare a 1 percent increase to a 0.5 percent increase. Lary praised the employees, but stressed the need to be fiscally responsible with so many unknowns in the budget.

“I want to do the right thing for the budget,” Lary said.

Without the exact figures, Lary appeared to favor a 0.5 percent increase now, with the potential to correct that in the next contract once the county knows where it stands.

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With the majority of the union members in his department, Sheriff Eric Samson urged commissioners to approve the 1 percent increase.

Following another testy exchange between Roy and Lary, commissioners adopted the offer of a 1 percent increase after the step increase by a 5-2 vote, with Lary and Zachary Maher of Poland voting no.

In other business:

• With its new policy in place on who can contact the county attorney, commissioners approved the final attorney bills from December 2016 for $4,674.84 and $876.

• Post reported that Maine County Commissioners Association executive director Rosemary Kulow is stepping down.

• Maher was appointed representative for the State Claims Commission, when it meets in Androscoggin County later this year.

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Androscoggin County Building in Auburn. 

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