RUMFORD — Only a handful of residents attended Thursday night's public hearing on the Board of Selectmen's second attempt to get town meeting voters to approve a state-required welfare budget.
Last month, a majority defeated recommendations of $70,021 by selectmen and the Budget Committee.
Selectmen pared it to $60,000. If that is defeated, Chairman Brad Adley said the process will be repeated until the article is passed “in some amount, as state law requires that the town have a welfare budget.”
Like they did at their previous board meeting last month, selectmen again sought to understand how Rumford's welfare system works, questioning Welfare Director Thelma Giberson at length. A few residents did likewise.
Based on their questions, selectmen were trying to learn if people are taking advantage of the system and steps Giberson takes to discover and prevent this from happening.
She said that from July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2010, she had 171 applicants, some of whom applied more than once, creating 173 cases. Of those, Giberson said she only assisted 79 cases.
The majority were people living in Rumford. Only six were from out of state, although two had lived in Rumford, left, and returned.
She said that to be considered, all have to live in Rumford for at least six months and not have income.
Selectman Greg Buccina said he was concerned about people trying to take advantage of the town. Giberson quickly answered that if she finds the applicant has lied to her, they are suspended for 120 days. She said she faithfully checks with state agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that money is going to people in need.
Buccina then said that possibly residents rejected the initial budget because, like him, they were seeing many new faces walking town streets on a regular basis and becoming suspicious if they weren't heading to work.
“There's a general assumption that they're coming here to utilize the system,” Buccina said. “They're taking advantage of it.”
However, Giberson said many come to Rumford because it has plenty of low-income housing available and low rents.
“Landlords love to get people on Section 8, because they can get good money for their rents,” she said. “I see a lot of people from Lewiston-Auburn because of the Somalis there, and the poor people are taking a backseat and don't get along with the Somalis, so they move up here because rents are lower up here than down there.”
Resident Mitzy Sequoia said she voted for the welfare budget as presented, but came away with a more enlightened view after listening to Giberson detail how the system works. She then said selectmen should have explained it better on the ballot, and perhaps, a majority would have approved it.
“I think the people in Rumford are very loving, very giving and very supportive,” she said. “I've seen it many times.”
Town Manager Carlo Puiia said the new article will be voted on by secret ballot at the polls in Rumford Falls Auditorium from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. July 13.