MERCER — Residents voted at their annual Town Meeting on Saturday to increase the 2012 budget from the amount originally proposed by town officials, and they approved converting the Mercer Community Center to a heating system fueled by wood pellets.

They also voted to approve spending $65,000 to pave about 60 percent of Old Route 2. About $35,000 of the cost will come from a Maine Department of Transportation grant, First Selectman Vern Worthen II said.

About 50 people — out of about 550 registered voters — attended the three-hour meeting at the community center and approved a final 2012 municipal budget of $296,962. Of that, $264,806 will come from taxes, Town Clerk Yolanda Violette said.

The taxation amount is $5,227 more than what town officials originally proposed this year. Residents voted to add $1,500 for an office assistant. Also, though the Budget Committee recommended only $5,500 for Mercer Shaw Library, residents increased it to $8,525, she said.

The total 2011 budget was $278,718, with $256,848 raised from taxation.

Worthen said the community center now will be heated about 95 percent of the time with a pellet stove, though the town will retain the oil furnace as backup.

The new heating system will be paid for with up to $40,000 from the harvesting of the town forest, $41,000 from an Efficiency Maine grant and donations. The town forest consists of 200 acres on Elm Street and has been cut several times over the previous decades in accordance with the town’s forestry plan, Worthen said.

Worthen said some residents proposed spending more to pave all of Old Route 2; but after discussing the matter, they stuck with the original plan.

“Due to the sheer cost of the entire project, we’re breaking it down over a several-year period, trying to keep the tax base as reasonable as possible,” he said.

It was the first time in two years that residents voted to pay the North Pond Association $1,000 to help prevent the aquatic plant milfoil, which can crowd out native plants. The association requests the amount each year from the three communities that border North Pond: Mercer, Smithfield and Rome.

An hourlong dinner in the middle of the meeting benefited Mercer United Methodist Church.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

[email protected]