FAYETTE — Debate on budget items at Saturday’s Town Meeting kept coming back to a central question: Is it better to tap into reserve and surplus accounts to soften the blow of increasing costs on taxpayers now, or save that money for when it might be needed in coming years?

No clear consensus was reached on that question, at Saturday’s more than three-hour meeting, but voters did approve a town and school budget, as well as a prohibition of any commercial recreational marijuana operations in town.

Selectmen, the Budget Committee and the School Committee differed in the amounts they recommended for several warrant articles. Many of the differences were in funding amounts, but some of the differences among those three groups also had to do with where the money was coming from — either from taxpayers, or from surplus accounts made up of money unspent in previous years, or from reserve accounts.

Selectmen said if all the proposed articles were funded by taxpayers, with no money coming from surplus or reserve accounts, property owners could have been hit with a tax rate increase of about $2 for every $1,000 of assessed property valuation. They said it is a difficult budget year and they recommended, on several articles, using surplus and reserve money to help fund the budget, something they acknowledge they won’t be able to do every year, because those funds will run out.

“There are things in this budget you may not see us do again,” Selectwoman Lacy Badeau said. “Our goal was to make sure our (tax) rate didn’t jump so much that people couldn’t afford to pay their taxes. Not everybody is wealthy. Not everybody is in the workforce. And not everybody is going to be able to afford a ($2 per thousand) increase in their taxes. This is a creative budget, compared to past years.”

Selectman Joseph Young said that in recent years, the town hasn’t been spending enough money on items such as school building repairs, paving and other infrastructure needs, and it could be facing a big expense in the near future as things that haven’t been kept up need to be fixed or replaced.

“We’ve been, as a board, negligent, in my opinion, for not recommending enough expenditures,” he said. “No one likes taxes. But ($15 to $16 per $1,000) is not an outrageous tax in this state. There are many communities paying more than ($25 per $1,000). We’ve bragged, the last decade, our taxes are the lowest out of our neighboring communities. That process led us to today. That’s why I’m against taking more money out of surplus.”

Residents reduced the amount coming from the town’s surplus account to fund the upcoming year’s budget from the $75,200 recommended by selectmen to $37,600.

However, residents also voted to take $100,000 from a surplus account to help pay school costs. Selectmen and the Budget Committee recommended $100,000, while the committee recommended taking only $60,000 from that account.

Superintendent Jim Hodgkin warned against tapping too far into surplus and reserve accounts, noting those funds could be vital if the schools need to buy two buses in a two- or three-year period. He said a new bus costs $90,000, and having to purchase one or more would deplete reserve funds rapidly.

The town’s current tax rate is $15.50 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

Town Manager Mark Robinson said it will take some time, and calculating, to determine what the tax rate will be, based upon the budget approved Saturday. But he said the goal of selectmen, in their recommendations, was to keep the tax rate increase to $1 or less.

Residents also approved an amendment to the land use ordinance regulating where timber harvesting may take place in town, and they passed an ordinance that prohibits all recreational marijuana-related businesses from locating anywhere in Fayette.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj