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In forum, Manchester's welfare chief knows his election opponent

MANCHESTER — The candidates running for city Welfare Department commissioner addressed topics including homelessness, resources, salary and budgets during a public forum on Monday night.

Commissioner Paul Martineau is being challenged by Diane Guimond in a rematch of a close race won by Martineau two years ago. Guimond is Martineau’s former deputy in the Welfare Department, appointed after he was first elected in 2001. It’s been nearly 10 years since they worked together, and it was clear Monday night in the chapel at Brookside Congregational Church that the two have decidedly different views on how the job of commissioner should be done.

Martineau faced questions about his salary and staff salary. Opponents repeatedly have questioned whether his $114,000 annual salary is out of line with the demands of the job. Martineau pointed out that staff salaries comprise about 68 percent of his budget, which he said is about 20 percent less than other city departments.

Martineau also said the welfare budget had been $1.4 million, but has been slashed to about $1 million.

“Needy people in Manchester are being assisted. They are getting help,” Martinaeu said.

Martineau was also asked about the welfare application process, which he acknowledged can be time consuming because it encompasses a long list of qualifications that must be met to receive assistance from the city. Each case is documented and the applicant has the option of challenging if the application is declined.

Despite the claims of his opponents, Martineau said the welfare office has always been about service.

“We’re not making money,” he said.

Guimond, who was town administrator in Lee from 2008 through 2011, said she hopes to get back to helping people through the welfare department.

While financial resources are always going to be limited, Guimond said more can be done with money there. “Communication with all of the agencies within our community is paramount,” she said.

Guimond was second to speak in the forum, which gave each candidate 40 minutes for their own remarks and to take questions from the audience. There were about 75 people in attendance and many seemed already in favor of Guimond, who shook hands afterward as she made her way down the aisle.

One of the first questions she was asked was about the importance of preventing homelessness, helping families before they end up on the street.

Guimond said it was a good question and the concept sound, but the answer was complicated.

“It really is a case-by-case individual and family kind of thing,” she said. “You can not just say arbitrarily say we’re going to do one thing. You can’t. You have to look at the entire picure.”

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