Strong prepared for annual meeting this week

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STRONG — Voters may have to decide whether they are willing to shut off half of the town’s street lights to save money.

At Saturday’s town meeting, voters may decide to increase, decrease, or approve recommended dollar figures to run the town, according to board Chairman Milt Baston. For example, the bill for street lights was $7,600 last year, and selectmen have proposed cutting that budget item by half.

Selectmen are recommending a budget decrease of 5.7 percent, but they can’t calculate the impact on the future tax rate, because they have not received the final budget from the school district or Franklin County commissioners.

The annual town meeting will convene Friday, March 2, at 1 p. m., and polls will be open until 6 p. m. Incumbents Joan Reed and Michael Carleton are seeking re-election. Mike Pond is the third candidate on the ballot. Ann Schwink it is running unopposed for another term as a school board member.

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Last year, taxpayers approved raising $561,450 for the municipal budget, and this year’s proposed amount is is $529,157. Last year’s budget also included one-time appropriations, which won’t happen this year.

“Last year, we needed $25,000 in matching grant funds to purchase our pellet boiler, and we spent money on long-term efficiency improvements,” he said.

Standard accounts remain approximately the same as last year, and employees won’t receive salary increases. Although this winter has been mild with little snow, Baston said several sleet storms have required the road crew to use more sand and salt and work overtime.

“We do anticipate decreases in the legal, street lights, roads and bridges, and equipment funds, and insurance accounts,” he said. “We have budget increases from NorthStar Ambulance, and in our paving and equipment operating accounts.”

Taxpayers last year had to increase their share of the SAD 58 budget by 10 percent, to $731,086; and their share of the Franklin County budget by 9.4 percent, to $85,850. Those budget amounts won’t be available until June. Revenue sharing dollars come from the state as monthly checks to all municipalities, and Strong’s share has been declining steadily.

“This Saturday, it’s all up to the voters, and they might decide to give more or take some away,” he said. “We have gone up only 1.8 mils on the tax rate in the past five years, and that was because of an increase in the school budget, the county budget, and reduced revenue sharing from the state.”

This year, taxpayers will be asked to appropriate $250,000, as they did last year, from the surplus account to reduce the tax commitment.

The town report is dedicated to Dick and Lorraine Chandler for their service to the community. In 1972, they opened the CAT Lumber Co. in Strong and employed 75 people during peak operations. According to the tribute written by their daughters, CAT Lumber trucks proudly displayed their bobcat logo and “Strong, Maine,” down to the Carolinas, as far west as Ohio, and into the eastern provinces of Canada.

The Chandlers sold their business in the mid-90s and have continued to spend hours volunteering in school, civic, church, and other community activities.

The annual report recognizes Harold “Bud” Haggan for his years as the town’s plumbing inspector and Craig Starbird for his service to the town’s volunteer Fire Department.

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