STRONG — Town meeting voters on Saturday gave pay raises to volunteer firefighters and agreed to raise taxes for a utility truck and a backhoe.

Moderator Susan Pratt announced results of Friday’s elections. Selectmen Rodney Cook and Dick Worthley were re-elected for three-year terms. Clarence Nutting and Candy Clarke will serve six-year terms as new Budget Committee members. Write-in candidates Steve Hagerstrom and Chastity Hill will fill three-year and one-year seats, respectively, on Regional School Unit 58 board of directors.

During the three-hour meeting, voters raised and appropriated $652,769 from taxes, appropriated $85,278 from other accounts and allocated $351,000 from surplus funds to run the town in 2018.That represents an increase of about 10 percent over last year’s budget.

Resident Rupert Pratt questioned the decision not to put the Highway Department’s backhoe out to bid when they bought a new one in 2017. Putting equipment out to bid would give people the opportunity to buy used equipment, he said. Selectman Mike Pond said the decision was to take the trade-in amount they were offered by the dealership. Selectmen also expect to trade in the old one-ton truck when they buy a new one, he said.

Only one outside agency’s request for funds was approved this year. Forty more households have asked for assistance in 2017 than in 2016, according to Salem Economic Ministry representative Tammie Gould. Voters supported the $2,700 request.

Resident Christi Mitman asked whether the municipality had a more efficient way to provide voters with information about meetings and general town information.

“We’re in the process of getting a website,” Selectman Rodney Cook said.

Voters approved Fire Chief Duayne Boyd’s request for an increase in pay for his volunteer firefighters to offset their loss of pay when they leave their jobs to respond to emergency calls. Boyd said he’s checked with other municipal fire departments and concluded that Strong’s firefighters deserve to be compensated more adequately. Voters also gave approval for the initial $6,000 in the proposed two-step process to rebuild and repave the Fire Department parking lot.

Boyd also is the Highway Department foreman, and he had presented selectmen in 2017 with a long-term equipment replacement plan. He said today’s equipment funding requests followed that plan. Selectman Rob Elliott noted that aging equipment can be expensive to repair, which didn’t make make good economic sense. Voters added $25,000 to the Special Equipment fund to buy a new one-ton utility truck and raised $27,635 in taxes for the first payment on the new backhoe. The Budget Committee had recommended against raising taxes for the backhoe, suggesting instead that the payment be taken from the Special Equipment fund.

“At some point, the town has to start living within its means,” Budget Committee member Andy Pratt said.

Along with paving requests for this year’s roads, selectmen said two residents have offered $40,000 to offset paving costs for paving just over a mile of Pond Road. Elliott said selectmen will schedule a special town meeting to explain the proposed project. The Pike Industries bid of $140,000 would build the existing gravel road to town standards and cover it with a two-inch asphalt base. The town would furnish and haul the gravel as needed. Adding an inch of surface asphalt would cost another $70,000.

Voters tabled an article to raise and appropriate $3,000 for the tennis court, but approved $3,000 for the town park and $3,750 for the town recreation account.

Pratt also serves as the school district’s superintendent, and she took a break from her moderator duties to explain that the state has decreased the district’s funding by $235,000. The Regional School Unit 58 budget will reflect that amount, and the board will have to consider the effects of the declining student population.

From left, Strong town meeting moderator Sue Pratt swears in Selectman Dick Worthley, Budget Committee members Clarence Nutting and Candy Clarke, and Selectman Rodney Cook. The town’s annual meeting honored Lendell and Elaine Allen for dedicating decades of time and energy to community activities, service and family. (Valerie Tucker Photo) 

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