SALEM — What began as a simple review of the Salem Community Television budget last night boiled over into a debate on town policy.
As SCTV executive director Thomas Giarrosso explained his proposed 2013 budget to selectmen, the discussion evolved into a heated exchange over whether the board should have been notified about two station workers joining a union for Salem employees.
The $423,000 SCTV budget was finally approved 4-1 but only after nearly an hour of debate triggered by concern that Town Manager Keith Hickey wasn't keeping the board fully informed. The budget review also prompted discussion of whether the School Department should benefit from cable television services and equipment purchased by the town.
Selectman Stephen Campbell told Hickey he was unhappy the two SCTV employees were allowed to join the union without selectmen being told. The move increased their hourly pay from $14.82 to $16.79, boosting the station's budget for employees from $105,000 in 2012 to $121,000 in 2013.
Campbell said it was the board's decision to make, not Hickey's.
"The Board of Selectmen is not making policy," Campbell said. "We are not being given the right to set policy."
Selectman Everett McBride Jr. agreed, saying he had spoken to Hickey about the issue earlier in the day. McBride was on vacation, but he participated in last night's meeting by speakerphone.
"When I talked to the town manager today, I told him I'm not happy we weren't informed," McBride said. "We should have been."
Campbell cited a recent controversy over the town's decision to participate in a regional planning project, A Granite State Future. Hickey and community development director Robert Puff said the town's participation would allow it to save money while updating Salem's master plan.
But a group of Salem and Windham residents led by Ken Eyring, a founder of the conservative political group Southern New Hampshire 9.12, said taking part in the federally funded program would lead to a loss of local control.