ELIZABETHTOWN - The explosives on the Champlain Bridge were not the only fireworks on display the morning of Dec. 28.
The Essex County Board of Supervisors held their End of Annual meeting, which started at roughly the same time the bridge was blown apart by explosives.
Four supervisors were initially absent from the meeting as they attended the bridge's demolition, and their absence cleared the way for a last-minute effort to undo spending plans.
However, that effort ultimately failed to change any prior decisions.
At the heart of the debate were two resolutions establishing 2010 salaries for non-union county employees, also referred to as management-confidential. Nearly all the positions were set to receive a 4.25 percent raise, based on the percentage granted to unionized employees in their negotiations.
But as St. Armand Supervisor Joyce Morency pointed out, many of the elected and appointed officials mentioned in the first resolution have salaries much higher than unionized employees.
"When you take salary as large as theirs compared to some of the lower ones, that is a fairly decent wage increase," said Morency, suggesting the county could save money by trimming the percentage back for department heads.
The same argument had been posed at previous committee meetings, but support for the full raises prevailed, led heavily by Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava.
"His feeling and mine is, being as we have planned to put a committee in place to look at each and every department head salary, that this would suffice," said Ticonderoga Supervisor Rob Dedrick, referring to plans to establish a three-to-five-year salary schedule for management-confidential employees.
Scozzafava was absent, however, as were Cathy Moses (R-Schroon Lake), Dale French (R-Crown Point), and Robert Dobie (D-North Hudson). All had previously voted in favor of the full raises.
Their absences counted as 'no' votes at the End of Annual meeting. That, combined with the 'no' votes of Morency, Lori Lincoln-Spooner (R-Willsboro), Roby Politi (R-Lake Placid), Bill Ferebee (R-Keene), and Randy Preston (I-Wilmington), amounted to enough weighted vote to defeat the first resolution.
"I could not support the  budget because it had across-the-board 4.25 percent increases, and I cannot support this now," said Preston. "I think 4.25 percent for anybody in this economy is wrong and that's how I'm going to vote."
Ferebee motioned to instead increase the department head salaries by two percent, a proposal that had first been approved at a Nov. 25 budget workshop, but was not adopted as part of the 2010 budget.
Politi and Morency said two percent would be more in line with raises scheduled for most town employees this year, and Ferebee said it was fair considering that county supervisors agreed to take no increase in pay.
County Manager Dan Palmer said lower raises for certain county employees "just doesn't make sense," as non-union employees have traditionally been given the same raises as those belonging to the union. Newcomb Supervisor George Canon agreed, but was the only one to vote against the proposal; and it passed.
A second resolution applying the 4.25 percent raises to all management-confidential employees was also struck down with Politi, Ferebee, Preston, and Randy Douglas (D-Jay) voting against it.
Douglas instead suggested a revision of the resolution that would set department head raises at two percent, while other management-confidential employees received the full 4.25 percent. Politi proposed an amendment that would extend the two percent raise to any making more than $50,000 annually.
Palmer and Canon argued against the two percent raises, saying they would allow some unionized workers to receive higher pay than their supervisors.
"You're asking a certain group to fall on the sword when nobody else has to do so," Palmer said. "I don't think it's well planned out; I think it's poorly done."
Both Dedrick and Westport Supervisor Dan Connell expressed concern with changing what supervisors had already determined at previous meetings.
"A lot of times, these last-minute decisions aren't well thought out, and we're just acting on emotion," said Dedrick.
"I just think everybody here thought this would be much easier because [Scozzafava's] not here," said Chesterfield Supervisor Gerald Morrow.
Politi's amendment failed to gain enough support and was defeated, as was Douglas's resolution. Though other suggestions were brought forth, none were able to spark a consensus among supervisors.
"If we don't act on this today, I'm sure we're creating a lot of extra work for payroll," said Essex Supervisor Ron Jackson, noting that the salaries would go into effect Jan. 1 before the next board meeting.
The board then recessed at the request of Politi. When they returned to session, Moses had returned from her absence.
Politi moved to reconsider the original proposal of across-the-board 4.25 percent raises, and the measure passed with only Preston dissenting.
Palmer emphasized that the plan included a thorough review of management-confidential salaries and that he should have an assessment finished by April.
The prior resolution that had already been passed with two percent raises was brought forth for revision to 4.25 percent and passed by a similar vote.
Asked why he decided to change his vote, Politi said after the meeting, "We weren't going to get a resolution today."