RICHMOND — Voters debated, and eventually agreed, on spending for both young and old at the annual Town Meeting Tuesday.

Voters approved a proposal to accept the donation of two church buildings and commit money to repair and maintain them.

Residents also approved $22,290 for summer recreation, following about a half hour of often heated debate, then later chastised town officials for not giving more to help the town’s senior citizens.

The Budget Committee recommended $7,500, while selectmen recommended the $22,900 figure which was eventually approved. Officials said the program also receives about $4,000 in user fees.

Tim Arnold, chairman of the Budget Committee, said the salary for the coordinator, which he says would be $16 an hour but is listed on town documents at $15 an hour, is too high compared to other jobs in town, including firefighters and library workers. He also said the coordinator has, in the past, spent more than the department had budgeted.

“She could be making $9 an hour, there’s no need for her to be making $16 an hour,” Arnold said, referring to Rose Beckwith, coordinator of the recreation program, who is also a selectman.

Residents said the program provides young people with valuable activities and also employs teenagers from the town, who learn about responsibility through those jobs.

Beckwith said she is contracted to work 108 hours, but works many more than that. She said there have been no staff raises in five years.

She echoed another resident’s statement that programs for the young and elderly often face a negative reaction at town meeting.

“It’s important people understand this town is more than the roads and fire department,” Beckwith said. “These kids are the future. I think this program is important to have available to these kids, because there are several of them who don’t get out of town all summer (without it). I hope you give our children the opportunity to participate in this program.”

Immediately after that vote, voters were asked to approve the selectmen’s recommended amount of $7,500 for the senior services account, which funds a senior center downtown where seniors meet for activities, companionship, and informational sessions.

Horning bristled at the selectmen’s recommended amount, noting she asked for $11,615 for the program.

“I can’t believe you’re going to give (the summer recreation program for youths) $26,000 and you’re only going to give the seniors $7,500,” said Betty Horning, director of the program. “It’s just not fair. I support Rose (Beckwith) and everything she does. But I also think you have to support these seniors who’ve supported you for years.”

Selectman Tracy Tuttle said the funding request for seniors was cut back because the group has funds, which Horning said they raised in fundraisers, in an account already, which can be used to help pay the costs of the program.

Voters eventually approved $11,615, the amount originally requested by the group of seniors, following a successful motion to cease to debate.

Church buildings

Earlier this year, the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, at the direction of the dwindling congregation of St. Matthias Episcopal Church, offered to give the town its two buildings at 15 Spruce St. The two single-story buildings are the 1,340-square-foot church itself and 864-square-foot Roberts Hall. The property is assessed by the town at $207,900.

Canon for Finance and Stewardship Terry Reimer of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine said the congregation of the church no longer has enough membership and the remaining members decided to offer the building to the town, in hopes that it could continue to be used to serve the community.

Reimer said the diocese may require the property to be used for the public good and could seek to include a provision in the deed requiring it to be offered to the church if the town wants to sell the property in the future.

Town Manager Marian Anderson said no final decisions have been made about what the town would use the buildings for, if accepted.

But she said possibilities town officials have discussed include making it the home of the food pantry, currently run out of temporary quarters in the basement of the Dresden Richmond United Methodist Church, and moving the senior center, currently operating out of space on Front Street donated by Gary Nash, into the Roberts Hall building next to the church.

The same warrant article asking if voters wished to accept the church property also asked to appropriate $5,000 from an undesignated fund balance to repair and maintain the property.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]lmaine.com

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