OSSIPEE — Holding elected county office will be much more lucrative for the winners of November’s elections, the county delegation decided Wednesday.
The delegation is a group of 15 local state representatives who set county budgets. Every spring of an election year, they set the salaries of elected county officials — the county commissioners, county attorney, register of deeds, sheriff and treasurer.
Now, salaries of two commissioner positions, held by Terry McCarthy (R-Conway) and Matthew Plache (R-Wolfeboro), will go from $9,500 to $12,000, a 26 percent increase. The third commissioner position is Kimberly Tessari (R-Ossipee), who isn’t up for election this year.
Plache and McCarthy had argued that commissioners spend 15-20 hours at the complex and they have done much to correct the financial issues that plagued the county for years.
“We got the refinancing on the nursing home bonds, we brought in several new department heads ... the finance office is on track,” Plache said.
Rep. Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro) said he’s seen progress first-hand.
“The financial office (had) been a mess for a decade or more,” said Cordelli, adding that issues such as lack of audits have been resolved. “The county is in 110 percent better shape than it was just a few years ago. And I think that is in large part due to the commissioner team that we have in place right now.”
Rep. Steve Woodcock (D-Conway) added that the county CFO, Bonnie Batchelder, who works as a contractor, also has done “a hell of a job straightening us out.”
He also added that the commissioners have a lot of work to do because they fired their administrator.
The vote to increase the salaries for the commissioners was 12-1, with Woodcock in the minority.
The salary for the Carroll County Attorney’s position, held by Michaela Andruzzi (D-Wolfeboro), jumped from $86,750 to $102,000 for 2023 and $104,000 in 2024, an increase of about 18 percent in the first year.
That salary was the first to be discussed and yielded much discussion. Cordelli called the increase substantial.
“It looks like we’re talking about, for 2024, approximately a 20 percent increase in salary,” said Cordelli.
But Rep. Jerry Knirk (D-Freedom) said the county has been underpaying the county attorney’s position for years and this brings the salary in line with what other counties pay.
“I think it’s not a raise in a simple sense,” said Knirk. “It is an adjustment to bring into market value where it ought to be and has not been for a number of years.”
Woodcock said the salary increase would bring the county attorney to the middle of the pack in terms of salary. There are 10 county attorneys in the state, and that seemed fair to him.
But Rep. Karen Umberger (R-Conway) balked at the idea of having two different salary numbers for each year. She also said the Legislature is doing away with the court system’s Felonies First program, which was supposed to speed up the criminal justice system.
“That’s one of the reasons why she has come in year after year, and jacked up the salaries of her ... whatever they’re called,” said Umberger, referencing Andruzzi’s staff.
Rep. Anita Burroughs (D-Bartlett) called Umberger’s remarks about jacking up salaries “incredibly inappropriate.”
Ultimately, most of the delegation agreed with Knirk and Woodcock, and the county attorney salary was increased by an 11-2 vote.
The Sun asked Andruzzi to comment about the salary raise.
“The delegation, with the exception of Reps. Umberger and Cordelli, supported a market adjustment to the salary for the position of county attorney,” said Andruzzi. “As everyone is aware, it has been difficult to find qualified applicants to fill attorney positions in the prosecutor’s office, and inflation has certainly made that even more challenging.
“The County Attorney’s Office appreciates that the delegation recognizes the importance of attracting qualified felony prosecutors,” she said.
The register of deed’s position held by Lisa Scott (R-Sandwich) was increased from $61,200 to $73,000 in 2023 and $75,000 in 2024, also an increase of about 19 percent.
Scott argued for a raise. She said over $18 million worth of transactions passed through her office last year and she ended the year with a $1.5 million surplus. But the position’s salary is quite low compared to other county salaries. She said she is the lowest paid department head and the register of deed’s salary ranks 39th of the 72 non-union employees at the county.
“I believe that the salary for this position should at least be equal to comparable positions with similar responsibilities within the county,” said Scott.
The delegation passed her salary increase 12-0.
“I think it’s a reasonable amount because ... we saw so much real estate transaction in our area,” said Knirk of the increase. “It’s a very busy office.”
The sheriff’s position, held by Domenic Richardi (R-Conway), was increased from $71,600 to $85,000 for the next two years, an increase of about 19 percent.
Richardi said the sheriff’s office runs the largest law enforcement agency in Carroll County and has 45 employees, including dispatchers and bailiffs. He said the Sandwich chief makes $78,000 and the Sandwich Police Department has only two full-time employees and a few part-time officers.
Richardi said the Conway police chief makes about $110,000 and the department has about two dozen officers.
Richardi believes he isn’t the only sheriff who is underpaid.
“I believe sheriffs across the state, salary-wise, are mistreated,” he said, adding that some counties pay around $50,000-$55,000. Richardi said he felt $82,000 would be reasonable but the delegation felt $82,000 was too low. They unanimously passed the increase, 12-0.
The treasurer position, held by Joe Costello (R-Conway), will increase from $7,005 to $8,300 in 2023 and $8,400 in 2024, an increase of about 18.5 percent in the first year. Costello said he helped with a bond package that saved the county over $1 million.
“So it’s been a busy year and exciting here,” said Costello. “And we’ve done a lot of positive things. So, we hope that the delegation recognizes the hard work that we’ve been trying to do.”
A motion to increase the treasurer’s salary passed 12-0.
“We’ve never agreed this much on anything,” said Knirk.
To which chairman Lino Avellani (R-Wakefield) replied, “We’ve actually agreed on a lot over the last two years.”