WINSLOW — Town councilors voted Monday to approve the first applicants for a first-in-the-state farm support program that will help two families keep their farmland intact for the next generation.

The council approved applications from Wayne Hapworth and Steve and Julia Russell for the Voluntary Municipal Farm Support Program. While the program was created through state legislation years ago, Winslow is the first town in the state to incorporate it.

Through the program, farmers or landowners agree to conserve their farmland for 20 years in exchange for “farm support payments” from the town, equivalent to some percentage of their annual assessed property taxes.

The town’s agricultural commission manages the tax relief program. It recommended that both Hapworth and the Russells get 100 percent back on the approved structures and land, which is less than 50 percent of their total property taxes.

The recommendation was off to a rocky start when councilor Ken Fletcher suggested adding a framework to the program to cap the tax rebates in February, prompting the council to postpone the first vote until the March meeting. After receiving more information from the commission about how much of their total property taxes the rebate would cover, Fletcher withdrew his original amendments.

Steve Russell, who is also the Town Council chairman, recused himself from the vote for his property because of the conflict of interest.

Councilors also voted to approve an amendment to the farm support program that clarifies the rebates can be up to 100 percent of farm-related property.

In other business, councilors also voted on the first of two readings for the proposed town and school budget for fiscal year 2018, which is $21.82 million. The proposal is $133,235 more than last year’s budget, according to Town Manager Michael Heavener, or an increase of 0.6 percent.

The increases came from “the usual” items, such as cost of living adjustments and rising health insurance costs, Heavener said.

“This will be a tax increase, and it’s absolutely driven” by the state’s reduction in revenue sharing with towns, Fletcher said.

Councilors discussed when to take the final vote on the budget. School Superintendent Eric Haley has asked for a delay.

Fletcher questioned whether the council could legally delay the vote, because the fiscal year starts on July 1.

“The only approach we can take is to flat-fund the local share,” he said, adding that the town has an obligation to let residents know what the tax commitment will be.

Councilor Ben Twitchell also expressed frustration at the request and said the council should take the vote in May, which is when it typical occurs.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour