BUCKFIELD — The town will hold a special Town Meeting on Jan. 25 in order to correct a discrepancy between the town warrant and the official ballot on four articles from the September town referendum.

The Maine Municipal Association’s legal team has advised the town that those votes were invalid, and the town needs to vote again on the four articles, said Town Manager Lorna Nichols.

The errors occurred in debt service, winter roads, summer roads and state revenues.

The special Town Meeting will include the correct figures from those four articles plus four other articles being proposed by Nichols. The Select Board did not vote to approve those articles during Tuesday’s meeting.

The town recently discovered that it had miscalculated the mill rate, a measurement that determines what residents need to pay in property taxes per $1,000 of assessed value, by including exemption values in the taxable valuation line, according to Nichols. What was initially considered a steep drop of more than $3 to a rate of $18.70, grew to $22.40 when the exemption values were factored out.

The town rushed the mill rate calculation in order to get the tax bill ready before the Nov. 15 due date. The whole process was delayed because the municipal budget was not approved by residents until late September. Normally, that vote is held during the summer.

Since November 2020, town government operations have been hampered for several reasons. Town office staff resigned that month, and John Andrews took over as town manager and resigned six months later. Bradley Plante was hired as interim town manager in May and discovered the audit of town finances for fiscal year 2019-20, which ended June 30, 2020, had not been finished and therefore he didn’t know where town finances stood.

Nichols, who started in October, is Buckfield’s fifth town manager since August 2020.

New articles that Nichols would like to add to the warrants include resetting the due date for the first half of property taxes from Nov. 15 to to 30 days after the special town meeting. That would prevent taxpayers from having to pay interest on the unpaid amount on what was due in November. If voters reject that, taxpayers would have to pay the interest retroactive to Nov. 15.

Nichols is also proposing getting rid of the Board of Assessors and replacing it with a single certified assessor and setting aside up to $5,000 to pay for position for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2022.

In great detail, Nichols reported on the difficulties she has discovered with the town’s financials. To help her wade through the mess, Nichols contracted with former Town Clerk Cindy Dunn and assistant Candy Brooks to help with the “financial and databased records so that we have good, accurate and clean data.”

Nichols estimated that the process could take up to six months to complete. Dunn and Brooks would be paid as contractors and not as town employees.

Several overdue bills and missing reports were discovered. Bureau of Motor Vehicle reports had not been filed for more than a month. The town had received 12 overdue bills from Central Maine Power, including two disconnect notices. All CMP bills have now been paid, Nichols said.

Inland Fisheries and Wildlife had shut the town down since July for nonpayment, which Nichols said are now paid, with service restored. Solid Waster and Recycling had not been paid since last summer and county taxes, due Sept. 1, were also overdue. The board approved those payments Tuesday.

Another report never filed with the state was for the November election, which Nichols completed earlier this week.

To help streamline accountability in the office, the board appointed Nichols as town clerk, deputy tax collector and registrar of voters. That’s in addition to her role as treasurer and an agent for BMV.

“I am not comfortable at all to wear all of these hats as they present conflicts, but will rely on our two contracted individuals for assistance,” Nichols said.

Switching the town’s payroll from Paychex to NDS will save the town approximately $1,400 a year, she said.

Colleen Halse will help the town manage the federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

In other business, the Select Board adopted a new town credit card policy and sent the proposed marijuana ordinance to the Planning Board for vetting. An application for a grant to help pay for the Drew Brook/Bear Pond Road project was submitted. Nichols said she expected the town would hear if it gets approved by spring.


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