WHITEFIELD — A mining moratorium, road repairs and the purchase of a fire truck are among the issues facing voters at Town Meeting on March 15.
The mining moratorium and a substantially higher budget line for road maintenance will be up for debate during the business portion of Town Meeting, which will start at 2 p.m..
The fire truck proposal will be part of the ballot election that precedes the business portion of the meeting. Voting will take place from 8:15 a.m. until 12:15 p.m.
Town Meeting typically takes place at Whitefield Elementary, but the school will be closed at least through Saturday following a fire in the gymnasium. Voting and the meeting will take place at the Calvary Bible Baptist Church near the school on Grand Army Road.
A group of residents successfully petitioned to place the fire truck purchase on the ballot so that voters could decide the issue confidentially rather than in view of the volunteer firefighters.
The $269,000 pumper-tanker would replace two vehicles housed at the Coopers Mills fire station: a 1980 tanker and a 1993 engine. The purchase would be financed by a 15-year loan at 3.5 percent and would coincide with the end of the $18,334 annual payments Whitefield has been making on the pumper that voters approved purchasing for the Kings Mills station 10 years ago.
Because payment on the new truck would not start until November, the town would owe $11,538 this year. For the remainder of the loan’s term, however, annual payments would be $23,076.
Replacing the old vehicles, however, is projected to save the town at least $2,000 per year on maintenance, and Fire Chief Scott Higgins said the fire department would be able to respond to calls more safely and efficiently in one new truck than two old ones.
The mining moratorium would apply to any new or expanded mineral extraction activities in the town for 180 days, retroactive to Jan. 31. That’s when the Planning Board asked for the delay to allow town officials to review Whitefield’s development ordinance.
Their concern was spurred by word that the Department of Environmental Protection had given approval in December for Harry C. Crooker and Sons, of Topsham, to dig below the water line and create a 37-acre pond at the company’s gravel pit near the Whitefield-Alna line. Crooker and Sons has not yet filed a development application with the town.
The Whitefield development ordinance has not been improved since 1994, when Sagadahoc County Superior Court declared it unconstitutionally vague. The court ruled for Crooker and Sons, which had been denied permission by the Board of Appeals to operate a mobile asphalt plant at the pit.
The proposed municipal budget is $945,826, which is $99,537 higher than last year’s, equating to an increase of 11.8 percent.
The selectmen are suggesting to take more money from surplus to reduce the tax impact to an additional $24,337 over last year’s, or an increase of 5.2 percent.
Even with that increase, town officials expect the total town budget to be down once school spending is taken into account. Funding for Regional School Unit 12 makes up about two-thirds of the Whitefield budget. Although the RSU budget won’t go to a vote until June, officials for the school district project that Wiscasset’s withdrawal will lower the average cost per student by $1,000.
In the municipal budget, the biggest change is the addition of $100,000 for road maintenance, bringing that category up to $265,450.
Selectman Tony Marple said the town has underfunded road maintenance in the past, creating a cycle where each road gets attention only once every 30 years.
An increased budget for roads this year would allow the town to repave and widen the culverts on a dangerous section of Hunts Meadow Road and reverse the deterioration of Vigue Road, Marple said.
Spending on personnel would rise from $132,262 to $154,766 in the proposed budget. That includes salary increases and a new $5,200 appropriation from the surplus for a fund that would pay employees for earned benefit time when they leave town employment.
The proposed budget also calls for increasing spending on assessing by $3,500. Marple said the assessor will be looking for major changes at properties, such as new structures, to update valuations in the next two to three years.
Town officials are unhappy that turnout has been so low at Town Meeting in recent years — about 60 to 70 people, 4 percent of registered voters — and Marple said he hopes more people will attend for a productive discussion of issues like road maintenance and the mining moratorium.
No one submitted papers to run for a seat on the RSU 12 school board, and races for road commissioner and two seats on the Planning Board are uncontested.
There are four candidates running for two seats on the Board of Selectmen: Sam Bartlett, Sue McKeen, Dennis Merrill and Jeff Newell.
Bartlett, a 55-year-old used car dealer who goes by Bunks, recently left service on the Planning Board after five years. He said he wants to work on budgeting and roads as a selectman.
“I would just like to get in there and learn some ropes and see what I can do for the town,” he said.
McKeen, 66, a former selectman, is running again now that she’s retired. She said she knows a lot about Whitefield after years of community engagement — including service on the Planning Board and Budget Committee, planning Whitefield Day and working on the new town newsletter — and wants to help the town tackle the challenge facing pretty much all municipalities in the state.
“It’s going to be very, very challenging in how to move forward as a municipality with decreasing revenues, increasing costs, and how are we going to do that and enable people to stay in their homes?” she said.
Dennis Merrill, a 65-year-old retiree, is an incumbent, hoping to be re-elected after his first three-year term in which he gave particular attention to roads and assessing. He said the assessing schedule has been revised, but many records are still out of date.
Merrill also wants the selectmen to keep a closer eye on what’s happening with other matters that affect Whitefield, like the state’s budget and the composition of the RSU. Wiscasset’s withdrawal was only the first of four that are in the pipeline.
“We need to be monitoring what’s going on and expressing the town’s opinion, particularly when it comes to funding,” he said.
Newell, 44, works as a driver and customer service representative for Goodwin Chevrolet in Brunswick. He’s also president of the Kings Mills Volunteer Fire Association and manager of the Whitefield recycling center.
Newell said that as a selectman he would advocate for the Whitefield Fire Department, for which the Kings Mills association raises money for expenses such as turnout gear or the forestry truck purchased two years ago. He also wants to help organize more community events, possibly including a music festival.
“Anything that would get the townsfolk together,” he said. “I think it’s really important to have community activities.”