SKOWHEGAN — Selectmen this week voted to use spending recommendations from the Budget and Finance Committee as a cap on articles at the annual town meeting, but only if those figures are higher than recommendations made by the Board of Selectmen.

A voter spending cap will be placed on whichever amount is the highest, not on a cap set by selectmen alone, the board said.

The vote Tuesday night was split, 3-2, with Joy Mace, the board chairwoman, Betty Austin and Donald Lowe voting in the majority. Selectmen Newell Graf, the vice chairman, and Cyprien Johnson, voted against it.

“The cap is not in any way to slight anybody … the cap is there to protect those who can’t or won’t come to the town meeting,” Graf said. “If they see it set … they know it’s not going to exceed a certain amount and drive their taxes up. That’s why the cap’s in place, not to slight the budget committee or anybody else.”

At stake, some felt, was the idea of having a Budget and Finance Committee at all if the people did not have a chance to vote on its recommendations. Selectmen are elected officials, while the budget committee is an appointed body with advisory powers only.

Committee member Darla Pickett said it was pointless to continue with such a committee if recommendations were not going to be presented as an alternative to those made by selectmen. In some articles at last year’s annual town meeting, the amount recommended by the budget committee was higher than the one set by selectmen.

“Offer them both figures and let the people decide,” she said.

Committee member John Grohs agreed, saying the people should have a choice on how their tax dollars are spent.

“Why bother even printing up the books if it’s already decided,” he said.

Even Mace, who once served on the budget committee, said she remembers the frustration that the committee’s “hard work went for little value in the end.” She said the town is obligated by state law to have a budget committee.

Department heads and selectmen agreed that there should be a cap on spending, or as Johnson put it, town spending “could really go awry” without a cap.

Town Manager John Doucette on Friday said both the budget committee’s spending recommendation and that of the Board of Selectmen will be printed on the town meeting article and both can be discussed.

Voters can not increase the highest amount listed in the article, but can amend the article to decrease spending, he said.

“You can always go down, you can’t go up,” Doucette said.

Doug Harlow — 474-9534

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