MEXICO — Tempers flared during Tuesday evening’s selectmen meeting between the Board of Selectmen and the Budget Committee on how the town’s tax cap ordinance would be implemented for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Most of the discussion centered around the joint meeting of the two groups March 18, when three members of the Budget Committee walked out.

The tax cap ordinance, which was drafted by Budget Committee member Albert Aniel in 2013 and approved by voters, states the local operating costs of the town would be capped at $2,726,731, a 10 percent decrease from the previous year.

According to the ordinance, local operating costs is defined as “all components of the municipal budget to be raised through taxation, excluding state, county and school assessments.”

“The town’s municipal property tax levy is already limited by state law known as LD 1,” Madigan read from his cover letter at the budget meeting. “The amount authorized for the 2014-2015 fiscal year (by LD 1) is $1,889,480.77. That amount is well within the limits imposed by the ‘Budget Proposal Ordinance.’”

Selectman Byron Ouellette said at Tuesday selectmen meeting that he thought Madigan “manipulated” the budget to avoid having to follow the tax cap ordinance.

“I think the general perception of the people who went to vote is that there would be a 10 percent cut in operating expenses,” Ouellette said, “and you turned around and manipulated it. I think you overstepped your bounds by trying to control something that you have no control over.”

Madigan said the budget he presented to selectmen and the Budget Committee met the requirements of the tax cap ordinance voters approved in 2013.

He said he mentioned to Aniel and other residents at previous meetings that the wording of the ordinance needed to be changed, and that he did not know how it could be enforced.

“I took that ordinance very seriously,” Madigan said. “Not one person came in and asked, ‘Can you explain this ordinance before I vote on it?’”

Selectmen Reggie Arsenault and George Byam agreed with Madigan, saying the ordinance was not written the right way.

“I agree that there are parts of the ordinance that could be worded differently, but this is poor management,” Ouellette said, “and I hope it catches up with you at the polls. There’s no way in hell that our taxes are ever going to be reduced by this board or this town manager.”

Chairman Richie Philbrick said, “Byron, it’s not our fault that the ordinance was worded incorrectly.”

“You allowed it to happen because you knew you could get around it this way,” Ouellette said.

“I know that John told Aniel that the ordinance was not going to be what he was thinking it was,” Philbrick said.

“This is just not what the people voted for,” Ouellette said.

“If people understand the ordinance to be something other than what it is, then I’m sorry, but that’s not my responsibility,” Madigan said. “It’s not my fault that people listened to Albert Aniel, who simply took a number out of thin air because he doesn’t like his tax bill. He misled everybody.”

“You have the tendency to put your legal eyes on everything, and you manipulated this,” Ouellette said.

“I didn’t manipulate anything!” Madigan yelled. “I have been so open about everything. There was no manipulation. The budget I presented was within the limits of that tax cap.”

“So we’ll have a 10 percent tax cut?” asked resident Gary Coffin.

“I never said that,” Madigan said. “Nowhere in the ordinance does it say anything about cutting 10 percent from the budget. That number was nowhere on the petition that was presented before us, and nowhere on the ordinance. Everyone was told they would have a 10 percent cut, and that it wouldn’t have an impact on services, and that just isn’t so.

“You were told, maybe, that that’s what you were going to get,” Madigan continued, “and I’ll assure you, if that’s what that ordinance said, that’s what I would’ve done. But that’s not what the ordinance said.”

Madigan turned to Ouellette and asked him to point out where the town could afford to cut expenses.

“You can’t touch the Police Department, because they’re being aided by a federal grant,” Madigan said. “You can’t touch debt service. You can’t touch solid waste, because we’re in the third year of a contract. You can’t touch the ambulance. What is left? If you can tell me what can be eliminated, then please, try it.”

Ouellette said the Recreation Department and the library are not considered “essential services,” and therefore, could be cut.

“If you cut the library, that’s $65,000,” Madigan said. “The Recreation Department would give you $120,000, but they bring in $60,000 a year. With those two together, that’s barely a mill rate.”

“But it’s a good start,” Ouellette said.

Ouellette later said the town could consider merging its Police Department with “another town,” or at least making it smaller.

“We may not be able to control what happens in Augusta, on the state level, but we can control what happens here,” Ouellette said.

The selectmen and the Budget Committee will meet again from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 26, to continue discussing budget proposals.

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