Voters decided

to use surplus funds to keep

the rate constant.

BETHEL – The town’s tax rate will stay at $16.75 per thousand dollars of assessed property value, thanks to a 34-33 vote at Wednesday night’s town meeting.

Faced with a $3,658,350 municipal budget for fiscal year 2003-04, voters, after a lengthy discussion, followed the Budget Committee’s recommendation in appropriating $212,500 from surplus to keep the tax rate stable.

Their other option, from the Board of Selectmen, was to take $162,500 out of the undesignated fund balance.

Voters at the 2-hour meeting in the Crescent Park School gym also shot down an effort by Haley Tripp to give town employees a raise to ensure staff retention.

Tripp left the meeting after voters overwhelmingly rejected her attempt on Article 11 of the 48-article warrant to have $56,681 raised for the Town Clerk Department instead of the recommended $56,031.

According to Town Manager Scott Cole, the average tenure of a full-time Bethel employee is eight years.

Selectmen Chairman Harry Dresser Jr. said the board has been trying to “appropriately remunerate” town employees and bring their wages in line with employees in surrounding towns.

Despite rejecting Tripp’s attempt, voters approved Article 29, which sought to raise $219,541 for employee benefits. However, during a 10-minute discussion, voters learned that the board’s attempt to institute a new cafeteria plan of benefits has been stymied for several months.

During a selectmen’s meeting convened after the town meeting adjourned, newly re-elected Selectman Reggie Brown stressed the board’s need to overcome the benefits package delay and help town employees.

“We owe Nesta (Littlefield) $2,000 that she should be putting toward medical bills,” Brown said. “We’ve got to get that (cafeteria plan) done.”

Littlefield is Bethel’s finance officer, deputy treasurer and deputy registrar of voters.

The delay, according to Cole, is the plan’s cash-back feature, wherein if an employee doesn’t use the benefits, he or she gets a certain percentage back in cash.

In other town meeting business, voters agreed to accept a parcel of land from Chadbourne Tree Farms and convey all town interests in a portion of the Taylor Smith Road to Chadbourne on terms deemed acceptable to selectmen.

Chadbourne Tree Farms owner Robert Chadbourne explained the article’s intent, to create a safer intersection at the junction with Route 26 by relocating 1,200 feet of Taylor Smith Road.

Using visual aids – a large photographic aerial overview and illustrated wall chart – Chadbourne presented the issue and solution.

“My purpose in offering (the parcel) is strictly for safety,” he said. “This is a very unsafe intersection. My feeling is that it’s an accident waiting to happen.”

“Bob’s arguments for improved safety make sense,” Dresser said.

Cole concurred, saying that the Taylor Smith Road-Route 26 intersection doesn’t currently meet Maine Department of Transportation sight distance standards.

“In the long term, the public’s interest will be best served by the relocation,” he added.

A spinoff discussion then ensued over who would pay construction costs for the proposed 60-foot-wide by 900-foot-long road needed to reconnect the road with Route 26.

Voters approved the swap, but didn’t delve into construction cost responsibility.

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