ANDOVER — In record time for an Andover town meeting, voters approved a new municipal budget in 4½ hours Saturday, instead of the usual 8 to 12 hours.
“This is going to be world-record time for our town meeting,” moderator Kevin Scott told remaining voters just before adjourning at 2:30 p.m. “I'm so happy.”
However, due to a slew of confusing additions and subtractions and one money item that won't be decided until March 20, selectmen couldn't provide a final tally, Selectman Keith Farrington said.
Early on, voters decided to buy down the tax rate by taking $120,000 from surplus after a failed amendment to reduce that to $100,000.
More decisions were made to further reduce the tax rate in a few other articles.
About 100 people were present when the meeting began at 9 a.m. in the Town Hall.
They quickly approved 3-percent raises for hourly employees, and then bogged down into heavy discussion on whether to give the treasurer an extra $2,000.
Following a motion to vote by secret ballot, voters increased Barbara Simmons' pay from $10,500 in 2011 to $12,500 by a vote of 51-25.
The first wave of confusion hit in Article 7, which sought to give a 3-percent raise to selectmen, the town clerk, tax collector, registrar of voters, fire chief, deputy fire chief, first assistant fire chief and town hall custodian.
The issue concerned Fire Department wages. Deputy Chief Elaine Morton started it by telling everyone that the 2011 amount of $750 on the warrant wasn't what she was paid last year.
Fire Chief Rob Dixon confirmed that for the past five years, she'd received $500.
Selectman Susan Merrow took the blame for accidentally putting Dixon's requested $250 raise for Morton into the 2011 column instead of a 2012 column.
After more confusing discussion, it was learned that the 3-percent increase had already been applied to the Fire Department officers' salaries, so the article was amended to the figures in the 2011 column and the revised article was approved.
Confusion then spread like a flash fire through the rest of the Fire Department articles.
Voters unanimously rejected raising and appropriating $11,000 in estimated repairs to the 1975 ladder truck after Dixon said more costly repairs would be needed to get the truck certified.
“You'd be throwing good money at a sinking boat,” Dixon said.
Assistant fire Chief Ken Dixon, Rob's dad, suggested starting an escrow account toward buying a new or used ladder truck, but that didn't sway voters.
In the following article, a majority agreed to explore a shared-use agreement on a regional ladder truck. That came after Rob Dixon said they'd never used the ladder truck on structure fires, only chimney fires.
Then a few voters realized they'd eliminated repairs to the town ladder truck.
“What are we going to put chimney fires out with now?” Jackie Gammon asked.
Chief Dixon said they'd have to rely on Mexico firefighters with their 1975 ladder truck because Rumford no longer has a working ladder truck.
Gammon asked what that would do to insurance rates, but no one knew the answer.
In other business, voters rejected borrowing $300,000 to rebuild a mile of Farmers Hill Road.