MECHANIC FALLS — Town meeting voters Saturday approved a municipal budget that, at $2.1 million, will raise property tax on the average Mechanic Falls home by almost $50.
Explaining his budget, Town Manager John Hawley said this one presented the most difficult financial challenge he had encountered with outside revenues, principally from the state, down nearly $200,000 this year and down almost $300,000 in the past two years.
“Our capital improvement budget has been drastically cut,” Hawley said.
On Saturday, voters approved $99,000 for the fund. In past years the town has been accustomed to setting aside more than $200,000 for major expenditures.
Voters also approved dipping into the town’s fund balance, essentially raiding the town’s rainy-day fund for $212,650 to pay for debt service.
“These are certainly not the wisest choices, because when we cut back on our capital savings we are setting ourselves up to have to borrow for big-ticket items, such as public works equipment, fire trucks, police cruisers,” Hawley said.
Tom Kuklinski said he would vote to tap the town’s fund balance but warned that it was “a one-year Band-Aid.”
Budget Committee Chairwoman Bonnie Payette admitted it wasn’t “a perfect fix.”
“We could possibly be in the same position next year,” she said.
Looking for somewhere to make cuts, Jeff White suggested the code enforcement officer position be made part time, given the decrease in construction activity.
Payette said the Budget Committee had considered such a move but had turned it down.
Hawley noted that code enforcement duties are much broader than monitoring construction.
“(The code enforcement officer) would be sorely missed,” Planning Board Chairman Arthur Montana said.
White’s amendment to reduce the code enforcement budget to $15,000 — down from $43,171 — failed.
Townspeople overwhelmingly approved a $500,000 paving bond which this summer will pave Riverside Drive, School Street, Upper Myrtle Street, Second Avenue, Oak Street, Marshall Street, Bucknam Street, Perkins Road, Clifford Street and portions of Laurel Street, Walker Road and Summer Street.
It was agreed that bond money would be set aside to deal next year with Edwards Road, which had been No. 1 on the priority list, and that the town crew would rebuild it with a proper base.
Voters also supported a $986,100 bond for the Mechanic Falls Water Department to extend water service in Poland from the high school, south 8,000 feet along Route 26, to the municipal complex on Aggregate Road.
All bond costs will be borne by the town of Poland.
Voters approved going out for bonds to finance a backup well for the town well and for the replacement of a main crossing the Little Androscoggin River. The original article allowed for a maximum interest rate of 2.5 percent, but voters amended that to 4.5 percent so that money could be borrowed short term and locally.
Michael Baird served as meeting moderator, skillfully shepherding the 72 voters in attendance through the 37-article warrant in just under two hours.
In municipal elections which followed Saturday’s town meeting business session, Peter Ford Sr., with 70 votes, led the field of four seeking two seats on the town council. Robert Small, with 57 votes, was returned for his second 3-year term.
Rielly Bryant and William (Bill) Diehl received 44 and 42 votes respectively.
Running unopposed for two 3-year seats on the RSU 16 School Board, Terri Arsenault and David Griffiths received 91 and 98 votes respectively.
Only one person took out papers for two openings on the Sanitary District Board of Trustees, Michael Baird who was re-elected with 102 votes. He will be joined by Gary Purington who received 11 write-in votes.