DIXFIELD — The Board of Selectmen unanimously voted Monday to schedule a public hearing Feb. 26 on whether to vote on the town budget at the annual town meeting by a show of hands or secret ballot, or to vote at a later date at the polls.

The hearing will begin at 6 p.m. in the Dirigo High School cafeteria.

Now the budget is voted on at the annual town meeting by a show of hands.

After last year’s town meeting, a straw poll was held at the polls which indicated the majority of residents preferred to vote on the budget at the polls after the town meeting.

With the 2014-15 budget development approaching, Town Manager Linda Pagels-Wentworth told the board Monday that it could decide annually how to vote on the budget.

Selectman Hart Daley said he wanted a hearing first, “so the public can ask questions and discuss their thoughts on the matter. From what I understood, I thought we had agreed earlier that we should have a secret ballot during the night of the town meeting instead of having a separate referendum ballot.”

Pagels-Wentworth said having the secret ballot the same night as the town meeting would get the budget done “in one night.”

“Yeah, but not everyone goes to the town meeting,” Selectman Dana Whittemore said.

Selectman Scott Belskis said the having a budget vote at the polls sometime after the town meeting seemed to be the more popular choice among residents and would be a good way “to get people out to vote.”

Whittemore said, “This way, residents could have a lively debate on the night of the town meeting, townspeople at the meeting could decide whether they’re OK with the number or if they wish to change it and whatever edits are made could be added to the referendum ballot.

Selectman Bob Withrow pointed out that, “Last year, we took a show of hands (at the annual town meeting) to see who wanted to have a secret ballot or vote by a show of hands — and people voted for a show of hands.”

Belskis said, “The results we got back from the straw poll (at the referendum after town meeting) showed me that people want to change the way we’re doing things. Three hundred and something people voted at the last election, and we’re lucky to get 100 people at the town meeting. A referendum ballot gives more people a chance to have a say in what’s going on.”

In other business, police Chief Richard Pickett told selectmen the Maine Department of Transportation informed him that it would place recreational vehicle-crossing signs with warnings on Route 142.

Discussion on the signs began in 2013, after resident Freemont Tibbetts asked the board if a sign could be put up warning drivers that there was an ATV crossing on Route 142.

At the same time, Pickett said he would be interested in approaching MDOT about lowering the speed limit on “the stretch from Mountain View Campground to Averill Hill Road from 50 miles per hour to 35 miles per hour.”

“We’re going to take that 50 miles per hour zone and cut it down to 40 miles per hour,” Pickett said Monday. “That will last until about 800 feet beyond Averill Hill Road. Also, there will be a sign when you’re coming into Dixfield from Carthage, warning drivers about a reduced speed zone. Hopefully, these signs, along with our enforcement, will take care of this issue.”

Pickett also told the board the Police Department made 14 arrests and 19 criminal charges in the month of January.

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