MECHANIC FALLS – The agreement between the Town Council and the Budget Committee to present a no-increase municipal budget at May’s town meeting nearly melted in the heat of a debate over trucking snow out of the downtown.

The problem arose when, after the two boards had come to an agreement on the budget, the state Department of Environmental Protection landed on the town for dumping snow into the Little Androscoggin River.

Initially, the council wanted to increase the public works budget by $15,000, which is the estimated cost to haul the snow, and pay for it by increasing taxes by that amount.

“We’ve done well. It would just be a small increase,” Councilor Rielly Bryant said.

Committee member Carl Beckett said the consensus was, and must continue to be, for no increase to taxpayers.

“Given economic conditions, it would be an insult to taxpayers if we’re asking for an increase,” Beckett said. He wanted the $15,000 taken from the town’s fund balance, suggesting that hard times warranted tapping the savings account.

Councilor Roger Guptil noted that for the past four years the town budget has been held at no increase or a decrease.

“How many more years do we say zero increase and not cut services?” Guptil asked.

Committee member Ed Piirainen said the school was being forced to cut its budget and the town could likewise make sacrifices if it had to.

He agreed with dipping into the town’s fund balance. “I’ve already put that money aside in taxes,” he said.

Town Manager John Hawley pointed out that in next year’s budget, the town was already making up for a 10 percent loss in state revenue sharing and had just absorbed a 5.4 percent cut in state revenue sharing that was withheld in the current budget.

Hawley cautioned that penny pinching will, sooner or later, affect the town’s infrastructure.

“In the last four years, not a dime went into road maintenance,” Hawley said.

In the end, the committee and the council took votes adding $15,000 to the public works budget, the money to come from the fund balance.

Councilor Bob Small noted that the difficulty encountered in finding just $15,000 to handle snow removal underscored the need for the “revenue enhancement” committee he is trying to form.

“We need to get a group together to brainstorm how to use our resources in better ways, to think in different ways how we make money for the town other that property taxes,” Small said.

Small urged people with energy and ideas to contact him or Hawley.

After meeting with finance director Lisa Prevost, the council voted to continue, until at least May, reduced hours for town employees, with the town office open four days a week and other cost-saving measures instituted two months ago.

Prevost reported the receipt of $38,428 from FEMA, as reimbursement for expenses in December’s storm, improved the town’s financial position but advised continued monitoring and restraint.

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