OAKLAND — On Tuesday evening, attendance at the Oakland Town Meeting was the highest that it’s been in years, following a public plea for a show of support from Town Manager Peter Nielsen.
It was also the fastest in recent years, as attendees approved a $4.3 million municipal budget in less than an hour with very little discussion.
Last week, Nielsen had said that meeting attendance, which has declined from about 225 people a decade ago to about 105 people in recent years, was a major concern for the town and the services that it provides its residents.
He challenged the town to show it cared by sending 200 of the town’s more than 6,000 residents to the meeting. The actual attendance, about 130, was well short of that goal, but was significantly above the roughly 100 that have showed up in recent years.
The budget includes an increase of about $84,000 over the current year’s budget, but because the town’s tax base has increased, the increase will have no direct impact on the town’s property tax rate, which is currently $13.80 per $1,000 of taxable property.
The tax rate is likely to be impacted by the budgets of Kennebec County and Regional School Unit 18, which have not yet been finalized.
There was no public discussion of pay raises totaling about $23,000 for eight town employees — the head librarian, the assistant librarian, public works director, highway foreman, transfer station manager, fire chief, police chief and police captain. Earlier this year, Nielsen originally suggested pay raises of roughly double that amount, but the Town Council cut that proposal in half in their recommendation to the town.
A group of 13 community service nonprofit groups, including the American Red Cross, Kennebec Behavioral Health and Spectrum Generations, saw their collective funding reduced from $22,650 to $16,400, a 28-percent reduction, following the institution of a $1,000 per-agency cap imposed by the Town Council this year.
Of that amount, $1,400 was allocated to the Mid Maine Homeless Shelter and $5,000 was allocated to the Oakland Food Bank, two groups which were exempted from the cap.
The amount was approved unanimously after a short discussion in which one person expressed opposition to the funding and one expressed support. In response to a question, Nielsen said that, in general, all of the groups provide services to Oakland residents. Occasionally, he said, there are cases in which the groups are available to Oakland residents, but may not have been actually used during a given year.
Rep. Bob Nutting, the long-time moderator, remarked on the brevity of the meeting.
“I would say that is perhaps as efficient a town meeting as we’ve had,” he said. “I think that the hard work of the town manager, the Town Council and the budget advisory committee has gotten us through in less than an hour.”