READFIELD — The now-defunct Public Works Department could be on the ballot a second time this summer.

A group of residents plans to turn in a petition today requesting a referendum to overturn a June 7 vote that abolished the department, appropriated no money for it and ordered the sale of all its equipment.

If there are at least 131 valid signatures on the petition, the town will schedule a public hearing and a vote.

The new referendum would provide the Public Works Department with a budget of $826,264 — the amount recommended by the Board of Selectmen and the Budget Committee in Article 19 of this year’s town warrant.

Resident Lee Sandler said he started the petition because the June 7 vote was so close, 424 to 419. Sandler said he feels that neither the department’s supporters nor its opponents had complete or accurate information about the fiscal impact of the referendum.

“As far as town issues go, we don’t know what it’s going to cost us, we don’t know how it’s going to work, we don’t know what’s going on,” Sandler said. “I felt if we brought it back the way things were, and funded it for one more year, it would give the town fathers more time to go and listen to people.”

He hopes an analysis commissioned Wednesday by the Board of Selectmen will illuminate the issue for voters.

Selectmen voted to pay $4,900 from the public works carryover to the Portland accounting firm Purdy Powers & Co. to audit the Public Works Department’s records since its formation in 2009. They will project expenses for the department through 2013 and compare them to the costs of liquidating the department and hiring private contractors to do its work.

The selectmen requested the audit be complete by Aug. 12.

A special town meeting is tentatively planned for later this summer to take action based on the results of the analysis.

Although Sandler suspects that having a public works department is cost-effective and gives Readfield officials more local control, he’s open to hearing more information.

“If this report comes back saying, ‘Hey, you guys are far better off not having a public works department,’ I would be the first to go over and mark the ‘x’ for getting rid of it,” he said.

Sandler declined to estimate how many signatures he and a few others gathered this week, but another resident, Milt Wright, said he personally had 121 signatures on Wednesday afternoon.

Wright said he encountered only four or five people who would not sign the petition.

“I’ve gotten excellent responses,” he said. “Most people have said thank you for doing this.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]


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