NEW VINEYARD — At least 70 voters braved Saturday’s frigid temperatures to elect municipal officials and set an annual budget of $510,245, an increase of $36,144 over last year’s budget. 

Residents debated many of the articles and asked for more information before they approved the 35-article warrant during the morning meeting.

The following town officials were elected:

• Seth Webber was elected to fill the seat vacated by selectman Fay Adams; 

• Incumbent Road Commissioner Robert Sillanpaa was re-elected without opposition; and

• Hannah Webber was nominated and elected to the Planning Board, but no other residents stepped forward to fill four remaining seats.

Planning board members Adrienne Rollo and Linda Thurlow noted that without three members, they would be without a quorum and could not vote on any issues. 

Citizens also agreed to continue electing officials from the floor, rather than requiring candidates to gather and submit at least 45  petition signatures in advance of the meeting.

“If no one is interested in being elected here today, why would we change the system?” one resident asked.

After some discussion, voters approved changing the fiscal year from a January to December system to a fiscal year system, beginning July 1, 2018. 

The new system, which will run from July 1 to June 30 each year, matches the state of Maine, the Regional School Unit 9 school district and Franklin County budget cycles.   

Selectmen Jeff Allen and Niilo Sillanpaa explained that without final figures in some accounts and without their auditor’s report, they currently estimate these significant budget commitments. This fiscal year change will allow them to plan a budget with more complete figures for voters, including unappropriated funds, or surplus.

Selectmen also explained that some of the budget increases this year would improve efficiency, safety and modernization of municipal functions. In past years, selectmen have not had agendas and minutes and had been unaware of some existing laws and requirements.

Although voters debated the merits of an increase in Town Office salaries, many of the long-term benefits will outweigh those extra dollars, selectmen explained.

“If everything is approved as proposed today, with the school and county budgets staying the same, the increase on tax bills would be approximately half a mill, which is approximately $50,” certified assessing agent Heather Moody said.

Discussion included the problem of uncollected taxes, tax abatements and the two percent discount for paying taxes within 45 days of the bill receipt. Although the town is owed nearly $178,000 in delinquent taxes from 2014 through 2016,  property owners are allowed to pay the oldest year of outstanding debt to stall foreclosure and sale of their property.

Moody said she has scrutinized the past tax years and determined that up to $6 million of taxable property had not been billed or billed incorrectly. Although the town can’t collect those back taxes, that revenue should be coming to the town in the future, according to selectmen.

“New Vineyard has to move forward,” Sillanpaa said.

In other business, voters also approved paying $3,950 for animal control services, contracting with Strong’s animal control officer Jorge Gonzalez, who has the state-required training.

Fay Adams received a legislative sentiment for years as a municipal officer, including many as chairman of the Board of Selectmen. Both Adams and former Town Clerk Arlene Davis were applauded for their dedication to their civic commitment.

New Vineyard voters at Saturday’s town meeting elected, from left, Seth Webber, selectman; Hannah Webber, Planning Board member; Adrienne Rollo, incumbent Planning Board member; and Thomas Holbrook, fire chief. They were sworn in by meeting moderator Rupert Pratt.

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