Residents approved a $5.4 million budget — the town’s fifth straight flat budget — at Town Meeting Monday.
Residents also narrowly approved an increase in funding for the Mid Maine Homeless shelter after a police officer and the town clerk said that they rarely successfully refer people to the Waterville shelter.
The budget was approved with little discussion by the 45 residents at the meeting.
Residents also approved a tax increment financing district to capture tax revenue generated by a new natural gas pipeline running through the town.
Town Manager Josh Reny said the town’s coffers continue to feel the strain of reduced state revenue sharing, which has dipped by about $320,000 over the past two years.
The town’s cash reserves stand at $1.3 million, less than the $1.6 million recommended in the town’s most recent audit. The current budget calls for a $250,000 withdrawal from the reserve fund, but Reny said that allocation won’t likely lower the fund’s balance, which is replenished by unspent money or unanticipated revenues throughout the year.
“It will not necessarily decrease our year-on-year reserves,” Reny said. “It will most likely prevent us from building our reserves. It will most likely remain flat.”
The 25-19 to give $3,000 to the homeless shelter was the closest of the meeting after police Sgt. Matt Bard and Clerk Christine Keller reported that the town doesn’t make much use of the shelter.
“In 13 years, I have found placement for two people at the homeless shelter,” Bard said. “That is a large amount of money for two people.”
He said the Waterville organization should be of more use to the community in order to justify the town spending the money on it.
“When you have this much money going into an organization and they can’t help you out, I think they deserve no money,” he said.
Keller said she had successfully refered one person to the shelter over the past two years.
Doug Cutchin, a member of the homeless shelter’s board, said that the shelter is under severe financial pressure because of added demands for services and promised to look into the reports and resolve the situations described by Keller and Bard.
“This is not a case of not being interested,” he said.
The shelter has 48 beds, including 24 for families, according to its website.
Reny and council members Aaron Rowden and Robert Sezak voted in favor of funding the entire request. Council members John Picchiotti, Michael Taylor and Jim Murphy voted against.
Earlier in the meeting, resident Mark Pantemoller said the $5.4 million budget is too much for a town Fairfield’s size, asfter repeatedly interrupted meeting moderator Tim Downing before the first budget item was read, demanding to be heard.
As soon as the first budget item passed unanimously, he left the meeting.
On three line items that funded area social service agencies, the budget committee recommended more than the Town Council did, which prompted discussion.
In each case, the town’s voters approved the larger amount, which was $4,000 instead of $2,500 to Spectrum Generations, which runs the Meals on Wheels program in addition to other senior programs; $3,000 instead of $1,800 to the homeless shelter; and $1,500 instead of $1,250 to Hospice Volunteers of Waterville Area.
The lower amounts reflected the level of funding for those organizations in the current year’s budget.
Sezak explained the council’s side of the disparity between its position and that of the budget committee.
“We were keeping the budget flat,” he said. “With all the requests that came through, we kept those requests at what they requested last year.”
Dick Fortier, chairman of the budget committee, said it recommended the increases in funding on those items in recognition of the increase in demand the agencies have seen in the down economy.
“We felt they were worth a few thousand dollars extra to some of these agencies because of the great service they provide,” he said.