Box Butte County Commissioners received a resignation letter from Veterans Service Officer Peter Mortaro one day after the board took no action to raise his salary.
Veterans and other members of the public attended the board’s regular meeting on Monday, March 4 – the day prior to Mortaro submitting his resignation letter - to show their support for him and ask that the board increase his salary.
Mortaro contends it was his understanding he would be making the same salary as the former Box Butte County VSO after a six month probationary period. The commissioners, however, state that this kind of agreement is not in their minutes.
Several members of the public spoke about the financial gain the County has seen since Mortaro’s appointment.
Mortaro increased veterans’ compensation and pension in Box Butte County in 2012 by nearly 30 percent – well over $400,000. Box Butte County outperformed 75 percent of the counties in Nebraska.
While Mortaro’s salary is $2,575 per month, VSOs in other counties make about $3,500 per month.
“I’m not asking for the moon, I’m just asking what’s fair,” Mortaro told the board.
Gordon Smith, veteran and member of American Legion Post 9, Hemingford, told the board that if Box Butte County loses Mortaro over a $1,000 a month increase, “that’s ridiculous.”
“He’s the best Veteran’s Service Officer I’ve ever talked to or seen and I’ve seen a lot of changes,” Smith said.
Jim Olson, Post Commander for American Legion Post 9, Hemingford, told the board he realized money is tight but asked if there was any way the board could fund this salary increase.
“We can’t lose this guy. He’s done too much and to hire someone else to replace him – you’re not going to hire anybody for what he’s getting paid right now,” Olson said.
Alliance Chamber of Commerce Director Dixie Nelson suggested the board be innovative and do some creative financing to make the raise possible. Nelson said she has worked with Mortaro on a number of projects.
“He is doing a tremendous job for these veterans,” she said. “Maybe if you can’t find the funding, maybe we should be proactive and see if we can’t contract with some other counties to make sure our office stays here so that these people aren’t traveling out of town to go somewhere else,” she said.
Dr. Donald N. Taylor, Jr., told the board he realized they had to live within a budget. In his years of practice, he said, he tried to stay within the budget. However, if a major piece of equipment goes down, you can’t shut your door.
“I’d have to find those funds elsewhere to keep the wheel rolling. If we lose this cog out of this wheel, this is going to come to a lumpy stop. We can’t afford to lose Pete,” he said.
County Commissioner Susan Lore explained to the public that they are in the middle of a budget year and that their hands are tied right now.
“Come July we’ll start looking at everything over again but if we start changing budgets, we have to have budget hearings, we have to have resolutions and I don’t think that’s a possibility right now,” she said.
County Commissioner Sandra McCarthy said she is sorry there was a misunderstanding but it was not in writing that Mortaro would be getting the previous VSO’s salary.
“Pete you know what you were going to make,” she said. “And I think if you don’t think we can help you then maybe, maybe there is another road for you.”
Mortaro stated in a phone interview that his last day would be Monday, March 11.
While he didn’t discuss his future plans, he is concerned for the veterans and their pending claims.
“I’m going to be okay but I really worry about those veterans,” he said.