DIXFIELD — Due to COVID-19, the Select Board has decided not to hold an annual Town Meeting and operate on its current budget, Town Manager Dustin Starbuck said.

“As provided in the state’s emergency legislation, we will just manage next year on our current budget,” he said. “That means no municipal budget increase. It will be tight, but with prudent management, I believe we can do it.”

He said all department budgets passed last year by good amounts, except for the police budget, which also passed. Further, this year’s budget didn’t have anything beyond department budgets. No ordinances, shoreland zoning issues, equipment purchases or other issues were involved.

“The only real place in the budget that will cause a problem is the Med-Care increase (up $64,038 to $134,268),” Starbuck said. “We cannot just absorb a 48% increase so I expect that we will run out of money for Med-Care towards the end of the calendar year. I am hopeful that we will be able to hold a special town meeting in November or December to address the Med-Care increase.”

Over the weekend of May 30-31, Starbuck said he polled board members on the proposal to stick with the $2.46 million municipal budget. Chairwoman Norine Clarke and Montel Kennedy, Ricky Davis and Peter Holman favored the move. Norman Mitchell was against because he he wanted the public to be able to vote on the budget, the town manager said.

“Personally, under the current conditions, COVID restrictions and deadline issues, etc., I think it makes sense, Clarke said. “If the budget was not stable, I would feel differently, but we are fortunate that the town portion of the budget is so close to last year.”

Starbuck said the reason for a quick decision was so “we could stop printing of absentee ballots and other things to save a little money, plus we were going to have to rent out a voting count machine.”

He added, “What won the day is the fact the budget doesn’t go up. It’s my understanding that the school budget increase will be a lot less than last year, with the possibility of the tax rate will stay at least the same.”

The school budget referendum will be held July 14, the same day as the statewide primary elections.

Starbuck said the board decided to go with no town meeting because the governor’s COVID-19 restrictions prohibiting gatherings of over 50 people made it too difficult.

“We did talk about going into the gym, which I think we could have done,” he said. “But our fear was, if we can’t have more than 50 people in the room, what do you do when you have 51 or 52? Do you say, ‘Sorry. You don’t get to participate. You’re too slow getting here.'”

Starbuck said they talked about having it in Harlow Park and have everyone spread out and maybe rent some bullhorns. “And it just got to the point where what were we really accomplishing? And the fact that we have such an elderly population. There are COVID restrictions. Do we want them to come down for this?”

He said they also considered other ways of conducting the town meeting such as drive-in, absentee, Zoom, but decided they had drawbacks and did not really allow for meaningful participation.

“No one likes the idea that you don’t have the town meeting,” he said. “If we’d have our druthers, we’d just rather have done it. But it just seems that with the various restrictions that were placed upon us, that this just seemed to be the better course.”

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