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June 27, 2013

Officials say health director cut came without notice

Health board holds emergency meeting today in response

METHUEN — Health Director Brian LaGrasse said he had no idea his job was on the chopping block.

The City Council on Tuesday night cut LaGrasse’s $73,149 salary down to $1 — essentially removing the health director job from the fiscal year budget that begins Monday.

“I was kind of shocked,” said LaGrasse, who was present at City Hall for the 5-4 vote.

He was not alone. The Methuen Board of Health will hold an emergency meeting today at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the health director cut, as well as a work-hour reduction for public health nurse Amy Ewing that will save roughly $25,000.

“It did catch me off-guard,” said health board Chairman Ray Wrobel. “I don’t think there was any inkling.”

Wrobel yesterday emphasized that the health board must work in concert with the City Council. But he said councilors never contacted city health officials about their plan cut the Health Division budget.

“Communication is always key to effective management,” said Wrobel.

Also funded at $1 Tuesday night was a vacant network administrator job in the municipal Information Technology department. Zanni budgeted $75,655 for the position, which has sat vacant since February when employee Bill Lasonde died in a car crash. The council also trimmed $16,131 from various accounts in the city solicitor’s office.

All together, councilors cut just $189,848 from Zanni’s $145.3 million budget proposal.

LaGrasse oversees five employees: a clerk, code enforcement officer, two health inspectors and the public health nurse — whose salary will be reduced from $58,132 to $33,218 as a result of a reduction from 35 to 20 hours.

LaGrasse and other Health Division employees work under Community Development Director William Buckley. Councilors voting in favor of the health director cut cited a desire to “consolidate” operations within the division.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Buckley said he was “caught a little off guard” by the proposal, which was put forth by Councilor Michael Condon and supported by Sean Fountain, Jennifer Kannan, Tom Ciulla and Ron Marsan.

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