Mechanic Falls council sets budget hearing

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MECHANIC FALLS — Council members, after expressing some displeasure with the increase proposed in next year’s school budget for RSU 16, on Monday signed the warrant calling for a public hearing Wednesday, May 11, on the budget.

Peter Ford said he thought, following revelations a week ago that the actual increase in health insurance premiums were significantly less than estimates used when the budget was prepared, the School Committee would have cut at least the $70,000 that school officials claimed the lower-than-estimated rates would save the district.

Town Manager John Hawley reported that town Budget Committee member Bonnie Payette had attended the meeting last Thursday, at which the School Committee voted to send the $18.1 million proposed budget to the public hearing.

He noted that Payette had asked the School Committee to make some serious cuts in the $530,000 increase in what the proposed budget was going to cost local taxpayers, but that none of the suggestions that Payette came up with were acted upon.

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“Their decisions were made before we got there,” council member Nancy Richard said.

“They knew what they wanted,” Council Chairman Dan Blanchard added.

According to figures released by school officials, passage of the proposed budget would cause property taxes on a Mechanic Falls house valued at $100,000 to increase by $45.

Acting on the schedule that establishes the municipal budget, the council agreed to hold a public hearing on Wednesday, June 1.

Hawley noted that the municipal budget, as recommended by both the Town Council and the Budget Committee, is $480 less than the budget for the current year.

In other business, the council voted to lift the moratorium on the development of adult entertainment and medicinal marijuana clinics enacted in December. It did so based on its action to accept a new section of the ordinance dealing with medical marijuana.

The council also voted to amend the town’s land-use ordinance, rezoning properties along the Route 26 corridor from Rural to Highway Commercial.

In April the council received a recommendation from the Planning Board that set the zone boundary at a specific number of feet from the highway. The council saw that such an arbitrary boundary would split many lots and believed it made better sense for the boundaries to follow the rear lot lines of properties abutting Route 26. The Planning Board agreed.

The properties affected are on Route 26 from Five Corners to the Oxford town line. The rezoning is in anticipation of development spillover from the casino planned for a lot that lies just into Oxford.

Hawley also reported that Robert Larabee, the town’s animal control officer, had advised him that it appears the town will soon be able to take its stray dogs to a shelter in the Norway area. For the past month, since the closing of a shelter in Oxford, the town has had to rely on the Androscoggin Humane Society’s shelter.

“We have no real agreement with them,” Hawley said. “They’re just taking it one dog at a time.”

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