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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mixed bag in Greater Nashua on contracts

While voters in Amherst approved contracts with police and two teachers unions, Hudson voters shot down contract proposals for deals with secretaries, custodians and SAU staff, as well as compensation packages for three groups of town employees.

“I’m not sure what to make of it,” Hudson Superintendent Randy Bell said. “In terms of next year, the impact would have been a total of $11,000 between the three groups.”

The contracts for Hudson’s secretaries and custodians didn’t call for any pay increases next year and 2 percent increases in the second and third years of the contracts. The SAU staff would have seen a 1 percent increase next year, Bell said.

“I think people were saying they wanted another shot at it next year rather than signing on to a longer-term contract,” he said. “I think it was more the longer-term contract. The message was very clear on both the town and school side.”

On the town side, voters shot down a contract for the police, fire and supervisors association and turned down a wage and benefit package for Rodgers Memorial Library staff and the town clerk/tax collector.

Selectman Shawn Jasper said the answer is simple enough: Residents simply can’t afford to spend more on property taxes.

“I think it’s pretty clear that times are tough, and people feel that people who have public sector jobs are very lucky to have them and they’re not willing to pay any more,” Jasper said. “We see what’s happening out in Wisconsin, and part of the issue is the benefits package.”

Bell said in addition to voters being edgy about entering into multiyear deals, he thinks most people’s feelings about the state of the economy lag a bit behind the reality.

He said voters were more apt to approve spending items last year in the depths of the recession than now, when some signs of recovery have shown themselves.

“I think what often happens is that people’s emotions follow behind what’s happening in the economy,” Bell said. “I’m sure that any budgetary pieces will be modest for next year. That’s a clear message.”

Jasper said three-year contracts are the norm in Hudson and shorter contracts would mean more of them on the ballot in a given year, not to mention more hours at the negotiating table in a given year. He said the dollar figures on the warrants gave voters pause, not the number of years.

“I’m not surprised by the vote, really,” he said. “We didn’t sell it. The union didn’t sell it, and therefore the voters didn’t buy it. And I’m not sure we could have” sold it.

In Amherst, the money at stake was significant.

The police contract voters approved 1,431-647 will cost $81,988 in 2012 and $28,522 in 2013. A teachers contract for the Amherst School District will cost $371,910 in 2011-12 and $358,645 in 2013-14, according to the town’s warrant.

Amherst voters also approved a deal with Souhegan Cooperative School District teachers that will cost $114,714 in 2011-12 and $250,273 in 2012-13, according to the warrant.

Litchfield approved a contract with employees that will cost $13,716 next year and $14,127 in 2013, as well as a contract with nonunion school employees.

Milford School District voters approved a collective bargaining agreement by a wide margin, 1,318-641, while voters in Mont Vernon voted against a contract with Souhegan Co-op employees by a 245-158 margin.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or