MEXICO — A handful of residents turned out Wednesday night for a public hearing on a proposed $2,684,000 municipal budget. Two of them were candidates seeking a seat on the Board of Selectmen.
The budget, which voters will decide on at the June 8 referendum, represents a 6.2 percent increase from this year and includes a $60,000 hike in the police budget that will be fully reimbursed by the federal government.
The proposal is also the figure recommended by selectmen. The Budget Committee recommended $2,615,000. The difference is primarily for a 3 percent salary increase for all union and nonunion municipal employees.
Selectman candidate and Budget Committee member, Byron Ouellette, said providing employees with a salary increase in the tough economy was a “sweet deal,” particularly because the town must also pay higher health insurance premiums.
Town Manager John Madigan said the 3 percent salary hike for union employees is mandated by the current contract. Nonunion employees virtually always receive the same salary increase as those in a union.
Ouellette also questioned the proposed police budget.
The selectmen’s proposed figure is more than $400,000, which is up $73,000 from this fiscal year. Of that increase, $60,000 will be reimbursed by the federal government for three years so that the town may continue to maintain a five-person department.
Once the third year of the grant has expired, the town will then have to decide whether to pay for a fifth officer, or restructure the department for a four-person team.
Albert Aniel, another candidate for a selectman’s seat, questioned what would happen if residents vote down an article.
Board Chairwoman Barbara Laramee said the previous year’s budget would go into effect until a new budget is adopted. She said the board and the Budget Committee would meet to discuss options, then the board would make a recommendation, and voters decide the issue.
Incumbent Selectmen Reggie Arsenault and George Byam are seeking additional terms.
Other items that saw changes from the current year’s operating budget included the social service agencies article. Last year, voters approved spending nearly $11,000 for such organizations as the Hope Association and SeniorsPlus. This year, $3,735 is recommended. Affected the most were previous requests by Black Mountain of Maine and the Greater Rumford Community Center. No money for either is being recommended this year.
Economic development was also impacted. Last year, the town raised $13,500 for the River Valley Growth Council and other economic development purposes. This year, that number is $7,000.
With school district and Oxford County taxes figured in, Madigan estimated that the current tax rate of $16.85 per $1,000 valuation may rise by $1 to $1.50.
Voting on the15-article town meeting warrant takes place by referendum on June 8. Residents will also have a chance to decide whether they want to continue with the referendum format, or revert to the traditional town meeting.