FARMINGTON — Voters at the annual town meeting Monday night approved a $7.6 million municipal budget for 2022, a compromise between what town leaders proposed and alternative amounts presented by two selectmen at the meeting.

Farmington Selectman Byron Staples explains at Monday night’s annual town meeting the alternative budget proposal he and Selectman Joshua Bell developed. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

The proposed budget approved by selectmen and the Budget Committee was $8.4 million, a 22.54% increase over the $6.9 million budget for 2021. It included a 7.3% cost-of-living adjustment and raises for several town employees who had not had merit raises for years.

Last week, Selectmen Joshua Bell and Byron Staples sent a letter to some residents stating they would be presenting an alternative budget proposal for voters to consider.

The alternative budget proposal was for $7.5 million, a 9.83% increase over 2021. Bell and Staples presented alternative amounts for eight of the 19 departments; five were approved.

Staples and Town Manager Christian Waller were each given five minutes to explain their proposals.

Record high inflation is causing many in the community to struggle more than ever, Staples said. The town of Belfast, used for comparison to determine wages for 10 town positions, has almost double the property valuation of Farmington and a 37% higher household income, he noted.

Advertisement

Staples said he found over $400,000 in miscalculated or misappropriated funds in the proposed budget. He considered the alternative budget fiscally responsible.

When he came here, Waller said he was asked to produce a budget, take a look at what needed to be added, kept and reduced or taken away. There were three key areas, he noted.

“One was in regards to compensation,” Waller said. “The town had several employees, the majority had not had any change in their pay for a number of years. In one instance it was 14 years. I would not work anywhere that didn’t give me a raise for 14 years.”

Standard human resources practices such as time in position, skill set, certifications needed and education were used to evaluate what the pay adjustments for each employee should be, Waller said. In the past there was no systematic means of determining pay raises, he noted.

Budget figures are also geared to help retain employees, Waller said. Several are due to retire, the town could lose institutional knowledge, the available pool of talent is very sparse and current rates of pay are not tenable for filling positions, he stressed.

“Almost all organizations are finding they have to increase pay to fill positions,” Waller added.

Advertisement

Another item was unfunded liabilities — items the town had wanted to put money aside for but for one reason or another funds weren’t appropriated for special reserve accounts, he noted. One example Waller shared was funds to replace Engine II for the Fire Department.

“The budget addresses the needs presented by the economic conditions,” Waller said. “As inflation goes up, the cost of services doesn’t go down.”

There was a debate over whether nonvoters should be allowed to speak. Some felt only taxpayers should since they foot the bills. Others felt department heads have big responsibilities and should speak if necessary. Waller noted department heads and experts from connected organizations could provide information in the town’s best interest.

Department heads, town employees and experts were allowed to speak on a case by case basis.

Budget Committee member Ed David said the alternative proposal was not a considered judgment of each department. “These amendments have nothing to do with the merits, what the town needs, what employees need,” he said. He asked if anyone had vetted them prior to 7 p.m.

“It is up to the people to make the final decision, it is not up to the board,” Bell said. He explained letters were only sent to some residents because he paid for them and couldn’t afford to send them to everyone.

Advertisement

“Anyone in this crowd could make an amendment,” Bell noted. “Everyone is here because they want to participate.”

Selectman Stephan Bunker had concerns with the strategy and transparency of how the alternative budget was presented, calling it a recipe for poor public policy. His suggestion to pass over the articles to allow time to reflect on the proposals and get answers was not taken.

“I think it is amazing, these people in power for the last 40 years … feel slighted because we the people are going against their numbers, challenging their budget,” Conrad Bailey said.

Ryan Morgan said people would have been in favor if pay increases had been addressed incrementally. “A little prior planning could have prevented this,” he noted.

“I think what is apparent is you are going to have your way,” Janice David said. There is no justification for why these numbers make sense, the budget was cut without any thought as to employees, in terms of fairness, she noted.

The budget approved was $7.6 million or 16.2% more than in 2021. The amount trimmed back from various departments are in relation to the higher $8.4 million proposal from the Budget Committee, not the 2021 budget, so spending would still increase over the current year. The amended budget cut $199,183 from Public Works; $183,738 from Parks and Recreation; $132,623 from General Administration; $79,552 from the Fire Department; and $57,684 from Code Enforcement.

Advertisement

General Administration was the first department considered. The vote to amend the amount to $860,275 was passed 197-119.

Executive Assistant Nancy Martin said after the vote that she wasn’t sure how bills were going to be paid and repairs made. The office may need to close one day a week, she noted.

Selectman Scott Landry said department increases came about after police Chief Kenneth Charles explained he was losing talent. Pay increases were approved for that department to try to keep it staffed, he added.

“One percent a year (cost-of-living adjustment) over 12 to 15 years is not a merit raise,” Landry said. “That’s why we were discussing other employees should be getting a raise.”

Bell and Staples did not lower the $1.7 million for the Police Department in their proposal.

Voters approved $510,000 for capital road improvement. The original proposal was for $650,000 with the alternative at $325,000. The amount approved last year was $300,000.

Advertisement

“The No. 1 raised complaint of citizens is the condition of our roads,” Bunker said. “The $300,000 per year wasn’t keeping up.”

Approving $510,000 would allow the department to stay on the five-year road plan regardless of what the economy does, Public Works Department Head Phillip Hutchins said. The town would be able to enter agreements with contractors, drop prices because of volume increases and there would be less liability costs, he noted.

Raising debt service $110,500, from $260,400 to $370,900, to pay off the Police Department building early failed.

Moderator Paul Mills said because the article was capped as written, the amount couldn’t be increased.

A proposal to cut the library budget by $4,110 also failed.

The proposed budget had an 11% increase for the library, while the alternative budget had a 9% increase.

Advertisement

Barb Marshall, Farmington Public Library board president, said, “We have written grants, invested in staff, haven’t lost staff. When people come they see the same faces.

“It is a safe place for people,” she noted. “We keep the budget as small as possible and still keep it viable.”

David Allen took issue with how the proceedings had gone.

“You are not making this town appealing to young people, down the road (voters) need to think about that,” he said.

Dennis O’Neil asked how departments would decide on spending the lower amounts approved.

Waller said it would need to be evaluated by the department heads and himself.

All other warrant articles were approved as presented.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.