RUMFORD — At a special selectmen's meeting on Saturday morning, three selectmen present rescinded a previously approved motion made weeks ago that established Sept. 8 as the town meeting on Black Mountain ski resort's funding request and subsequent vote on Sept. 13.
Then Chairman Brad Adley and Selectmen Jeff Sterling and Jeremy Volkernick OK'd new dates and times for a town meeting and balloting on the ski hill's funding and the board's third attempt to pass a welfare budget.
The new town meeting — at which both articles will be debated — will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 27, in Muskie Auditorium at Mountain Valley High School. Warrant polls will be from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wed., Oct. 13, at the American Legion on upper Congress Street.
The meetings had to be rescheduled due to an oversight: the Finance Committee — as required by town ordinance — must first make a recommendation on both budget articles. To accomplish this, the committee will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 7, in the jury room at the municipal building.
Selectmen on Saturday also learned that an improperly written town charter and ordinance created the initial problem in June on the ski hill's initiated-article funding request.
At that June 8 town meeting, 657 residents voted not to fund the ski hill, 420 voted to give it $56,700 and 637 voted to give it $51,000.
Black Mountain officials argued that more people wanted to fund the resort than not fund it, but were split on the amount. Through petitions, they attempted to seek a precedent-setting revote, but selectmen denied each one, saying they didn't meet the critical-circumstance criteria required to have selectmen call a special town meeting.
Ski resort officials then got 500 signatures on another petition to bypass selectmen and get on the ballot, claiming if they didn't get the money, the resort would close, thereby meeting the urgency criteria.
“These are two situations that the town has never experienced,” Town Manager Carlo Puiia said.
Six residents then sued the town to block the vote, claiming the petition-initiated process violated the charter. They sought an injunction. However, Oxford County Superior Court Justice Robert Clifford denied the restraining order and ruled the petition process legal.
Clifford also ordered Rumford to hold a formal town meeting to allow debate on the issue, and then vote on it by secret poll per town law.
But this time, selectmen and the committee must recommend amounts instead of relying on the petition's request for $51,000.
That's when Volkernick said the same thing that happened in June could happen in October, because selectmen and a charter commission can't fix the charter and ordinance that created the problem until the November election.
“We have a charter that clearly defines the powers and duties of the Finance Committee, and then an ordinance has another powers and duties section,” Puiia said. “The Maine Municipal Association said, 'This is quite unorthodox. No other town has that kind of ambiguity.'”
“I think when the secret ballot process was put into place, the framers of that wording couldn't foresee the obstacles that would arise and that this would happen,” Puiia said.
“And now we're living the hangover from that,” Chairman Adley said.
“The thing to do is follow the petition and use common sense, and hopefully the Finance Committee will use some common sense here, too, because I don't think anybody wants to see this process done over again. I know I don't want to do it over again.”
The Oct. 13 vote on the welfare budget, which is currently proposed at $35,000, is the board's third straight attempt to pass it.
Town meeting voters in June defeated the first proposal of $70,021 and, in July, the second recommendation of $60,000.
Until these two money matters are settled, selectmen can't commit Rumford's taxes to collect the money and run the town. Should voters approve them in October, Puiia said they would be funded through the overlay.
At the board's regular meeting on Sept. 2, they will schedule a workshop to revise the clashing charter and ordinance and recommend an amount on Black Mountain funding.