Bundling of accounts in articles generates complaints

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NEW GLOUCESTER — Selectmen on Monday reviewed a preliminary 32-warrant article proposal for the annual town meeting on May 3.

Residents complained they would not be able to vote on individual accounts because of bundled items in articles.

For example, Article 2, which drew citizen comment against the bundling, combines seven funds that include: selectmen at $16,900; administration at $275,800; town meetings/elections at $4,350; tax assessment at $45,000; code enforcement at $55,607; legal at $18,000 and unanticipated expenses at $15,000 for a grand total of $430,657.

At issue is selectmen’s plan to outsource the position of the full-time town assessors’ agent Nancy Pinette, a seven-year employee.

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Resident Patti Mikkelsen spoke in favor of retaining the assessor post at $74,512 by presenting a separate article on the warrant.

“Outsourcing (at $45,000) would result in an assessor being present at our town office just one day per week and only reachable by phone during the other weekdays,” she said. “Having adequate time for conducting field visits are questionable. The estimated savings for outsourcing is approximately $30,000 which comprises only one percent of New Gloucester’s $3 million undesignated fund balance.”

And, the town has segregated $2 million in a Pineland tax increment funds account. This year an estimated $195,000 will be added to the account.

The municipal budget request is $2,865,189 to be offset by $2 million in projected revenues.

Therefore, the net budget proposed to be raised by taxpayers totals $835,937 to fund the municipality only. This is lower than the 2009 tax year budget.

Mikkelsen said the bundling of accounts means that voters who oppose the $45,000 funding request for assessing are forced to turn down Article 2, therefore, not fund the other six accounts in the article.

Resident Penny Hilton said, “I would like to request that the selectmen separate that line out of the other line items with which it is currently bundled in the proposed budget, reset the amount proposed to cover a full-time position at current salary … and present it as a stand-alone article which the voters can discuss fully and vote up or down on its own merits, without other entanglements.”

“The advise given Monday (by Board Chairman Steven Libby) that voting the bundled article down would be ‘the simplest way’ a dissenting majority can deal with this issue was disingenuous,” Hilton added. “Personally, I think it is a kind of blackmail to say to voters, ‘If you must vote contrary to our proposal, that is your right, but you will also simultaneously be defunding essential areas of town government, like selectmen and administration.’”

Public Works Director Ted Shane also told the board that a loader needs up to $45,000 in costly unanticipated repairs. But, last fall the replacement loader was not rated highly by a Capital Improvement Plan Committee’s priority scale. The funds are in a reserve to replace the loader, he said.

Selectmen say they will not bypass the review process and budget reviews at this time.

“I will stick to the process, roll the dice and then deal with the future,” said Libby, the board’s chairman.

And, Shane urged the board to reconsider reconstruction of the Morse Road by putting the project out to bid and based on results, consider holding a special town meeting to approve the project instead of waiting another year to fall two years behind schedule.

The board will review the warrant again before signing it. No changes were made.

A legal review of two citizen petitions on cable franchise fees, public TV access and an ordinance review about cable will be sought.

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