BETHEL – With minimal discussion on most articles at the annual town meeting Wednesday night, a majority of 117 voters approved a $3.2 million municipal budget.

The most discussion came as expected on the proposed sidewalk for Mason Street and Crescent Drive. That article asked voters to authorize selectmen to enter into an agreement with the Maine Department of Transportation and accept $96,460 in state funds, raise an additional $63,626 in local funds, and then to appropriate both state and local funds to build a sidewalk along Mason Street and Crescent Drive.

The proposed $160,086 Safe Routes to School project will end at Crescent Park Elementary School.

Although both selectmen and the Budget Committee recommended a “No” vote, Planning Board Chairman and businessman Al Cressy motioned to accept the article as presented since moderator Harry Dresser Jr. didn’t yet read the “No” recommendation sentence.

It was seconded and discussion commenced.

Some who objected to the project said the current recession isn’t the time to spend $160,000 on a sidewalk that only few children or pedestrians would use.

Selectman Dennis Doyon argued that point, saying that several people in the Bethel area have been laid off or let go from jobs and are struggling to keep their homes out of foreclosure actions.

“I don’t understand how we can ask for those folks to pay for a sidewalk,” Doyon said. “Is this sidewalk a good thing? Yes, but can we afford it? No.”

Resident Jane Ryerson said the school has been there since 1951 without a sidewalk leading to it. She didn’t believe it was time for a sidewalk when only 20 children may use it.

Ryerson said one Bethel business on Route 2, the BIG Adventure Center, was foreclosed on last week and, like Doyon, she argued that some other businesses are in the same predicament.

“We can not continue to do this,” Ryerson said of continued excess spending during the recession.

Others, such as former Bethel resident Nancy White, asked voters to look beyond the short-term hard times and toward the future.

“It takes courage to stand up in favor of a sidewalk in this down economy,” White said. “I think this sidewalk would enhance this village.”

“We’re going to be spending $163,000, $96,000 of which isn’t our money,” White said. “We’re putting money back into our community and that’s not a bad thing.”

“This is a long-term investment in our town for safety and recreation,” Cressy said. “It’s something we cannot afford to defeat tonight.”

After more discussion, a majority OK’d the project.

Then, in Article 39, Budget Committee member Ron Savage recommended taking $30,000 from the $560,000 undesignated fund balance to reduce the sidewalk project hit on taxpayers.

A quick amendment to do just that was OK’d and the changed article approved.

Overall, Board of Selectmen Chairman Stan Howe said he was pleased with the positive message expressed by the majority, who approved almost every article as presented.

“Town meeting went very well,” Howe said. “I think everybody felt they had a chance to speak.”

Town Manager Scott Cole, whose contract ends June 30, said he, too, was also thrilled about the town meeting, but for a different reason.

“It’s a great job and there’s a lot of gratification, but change is good and it’s time to move on,” Cole said.

Selectmen hired former Rumford Town Manager Jim Doar to take over Cole’s job for the last 10 years.

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