MECHANIC FALLS – Residents at Saturday’s town meeting approved, without change, the budget requests as presented by the Town Council and the School Committee.
The $1.77 million municipal budget was criticized for forcing a spending increase that exceeds the growth limit set by the legislature in a tax-cap law passed last year.
Resident Jeff White charged the Town Council with ignoring the tax cap, when it delivered a budget request that exceed the law’s limit by $67,125.
“You should have found other ways to contain spending,” White said. “Carol Palesky’s tax-cap initiative should make it illegal not to contain the tax increase.”
Town Manger Dana Lee pointed out that the existing tax-cap law requires the town to seek special voter authorization to increase the property tax levy more than $25,253.
“The council started out $156,000 over the limit. They got that down, but both the Council and the Budget Committee recognize that the $25,000 limit is not realistic. Increases for oil and gas on the warrant add up to more than $25,000,” said Lee.
Townspeople agreed to waive the limit by a 36-8 vote.
The Public Works Department and the Police Department budgets saw the greatest increases. Public works spending went from $212,000 to $233,000 and police spending increased by $14,000 to $256,000.
Voters also were spending $129,000 from the town’s fund balance to make improvements to the public works and Fire Department buildings -and allotted $17,000 of it to construct a two-bay garage for the police department.
In response to White’s questioning of why the $5,600 to pay for emergency dispatching by the Androscoggin Sheriff’s Department was not part of the town’s $128,656 county tax assessment, Lee said that the Sheriff’s Department contracts those services separately.
“It’s not part of the county’s regular services. And it’s a real bargain. If the plan to consolidate E-911 dispatching services goes through, we could be looking at paying $70- or $80,000,” said Lee.
By 38-4 vote, townspeople approved raising $383,129 more than what’s required under the state’s essential programs and services funding model, in support of the School Committee’s requested $4.66 million budget.
Elm Street school Principal Mary Martin pointed out that although the budget is $190,000 higher than the current year’s, the amount coming from local property taxes is actually down by $34.
Martin also told townspeople that money from the capital improvement fund will be used to repair a solar roof and will complete the first half of the asbestos tile removal and floor replacement project at Elm Street.
The effect of the voter action will increase the tax rate about 40 cents per $1,000 to $19.30, according to Lee.
Municipal election results are as follows:
Town Councilor Marchian Crane was re-elected with 40 votes to Paula Stotts’ 10.
School Committee members Terri Arsenault and Joyce Crane were re-elected with 43 and 44 votes respectively.
Sanitary District Trustees Wayne Marquis and Randall Plummer were re-elected with 40 and 47 votes respectively.
A total of 50 residents cast their votes.