The people of Lebanon have an opportunity on Tuesday to begin the transformation of town departments that have become increasingly more about department heads' and their families' paychecks and less about ours.
Let's start with Lebanon Fire and EMS. Four short years ago Lebanon Fire was budgeted at $109,000. The Rescue, meanwhile, was self-funded, which turned out to be a disaster, but even they weren't spending money like the new chief.
We all know the Rescue racked up a $200G deficit, but that was over a number of years. True, we will probably never recoup any of that money, but we do have the power to make the new department accountable and to make those who run it to run it in the most cost-effective manner possible.
Right now at Fire we have a chief who began by just charging us $1,200 a month to be Fire AND Rescue chief, accepting use of the rescue chief's vehicle in lieu of the other $1,200 a month, at least that's what he told us back when he started the job early last year.
But in July of last year he began taking the $2,400 a month and kept the car, for which he pays nothing.
Then this year he inserts a $900 a week salary in his budget and he still keeps the car.
The former chief worked well over 40 hours a week pretty much every single week for the $1,200 a month.
Now we're told in the new government he can't do that. What we were doing with Skip Wood was illegal, that a stipend can't be for time worked, but only for expenses and such.
That depends on what dictionary you go by. We got one right here says, stipend: "a fixed sum of money paid periodically for services or to defray expenses." That's Merriam Webster. Here's another one from dictionary.com: "fixed or regular pay; salary."
There are midlevel and high-end managers who work 50, 60 hours a week for a base salary and don't get paid overtime, ever! Only in the upside-down world of government would you find a department head that can't suck it up, put in the time and be thankful he or she's got a job in a country where in one out of five families doesn't have a single household member working.
So Fire and EMS gets this huge budget almost triple the size of a fire budget from a couple of years ago and the chief doubles his salary (including benefits) from last year.
Plus you would think they must have saved a ton of money on gasoline last year with the price drop. Where's that savings reflected?
Do they give a whit about the senior citizens in this town who live on Social Security or the handicapped who live on disability and can barely stay in their homes? They didn't get any increase in their checks this year because the low cost of gas helped keep inflation in check. So the only thing that gets inflated is the chief's salary, by double? C'mon man! And he wants a new fire truck, too. A fire truck that is a lot more expensive with less equipment than one the former chief tried to get a few years back and was rejected by voters then?
Skip Wood kept that department going at a fraction of the cost, using bubble gum and baling wire, and he did a good enough job that the town kept him around more than a decade as chief and some 50 years at the department.
Vote no on the fire budget and no on the default budget. Stopping the money is the only way to stop the bleeding.
The same goes for the road department, which also needs some transformation. We need to buy some trucks like Milton does and stop paying these ridiculous rental fees for ditching, hauling brush and debris removal where the truck owner's (oftentimes the commissioner) is getting $500 a day for his one-tone vehicle which might be parked on the side of some town road much of the time. That's over and above his salary, too.
Schoolhouse Lane, River Road, Shapleigh Road. The list goes on and one. Many have said a full third of the roads budget goes to paying those rental fees, so it's not surprising the roads are in the deplorable shape they are. Time for a change.
Vote no on all roads budget articles and the default budget.
In Milton the road department chief also manages the transfer station. Why can't we do that in Lebanon? Why do you need a manager of the transfer station? What exactly is he managing? "Time for someone to go rake the hopper?" "Time for someone to go push the button?" "Time for someone to go turn the channel cause 'Ellen's' on?"
Vote no on the transfer station budget and no on the default.
The Code Enforcement Officer ballot question a couple of years ago asked the voters to authorize $35,000 for the position. This year the budget is almost $51,000 plus the budgeted full-time position would give benefits, costing another $15,000 dollars. That's some $65,000 altogether. Again, I don't think those that put these budgets together thought about the people who are paying for them.
People working in the private sector haven't seen real income growth in more than a decade. Maybe when we vote these budgets down, they will feel our pain.
Lastly, it has to be said that we are supportive of our call firefighters and rescue personnel, we know the work you do can be incredibly difficult. Thank you.
And we appreciate the transfer station workers who keep the hoppers clean and pick up after us when we inadvertently make a mess or let us stay warm inside their hut when we lock ourselves out of our truck on a cold January day. Thank you.
And we appreciate the work our road guys do replacing signs and patching up holes in the roads when we report them. Thank you, too.
This is not about being vindictive. It's about being vocal, about standing up for what we believe and having the courage of our conviction.
We think the town will be better off in the long run if we stand up and say let's just be a little more thrifty, get by with a little less like most of us do and run these departments smarter, leaner and more efficiently.