OAKLAND — Voters will be asked on Tuesday to approve a $4.2 million municipal budget that town leaders have recommended.

Town Manager Peter Nielsen said he is concerned about dwindling participation in the annual Town Meeting, at which voters can exert their influence on town policies and services such as the library, plowing, road repairs, police and fire protection and tax assessment.

On the local level, he said, a single vote has the potential to effect change, but it is still difficult to get residents to attend.

“We really need people to come out once a year and reaffirm that the values we’ve been operating under are still valid,” he said.

The recommended budget is about $100,000 less than last year’s; but the property tax rate, now $13.50 per $100,000 of assessed property value, is unlikely to decrease because the town’s reductions are expected to be offset by changes in the Regional School Unit 18 budget, Nielsen said.

School district administrators say an increase in local tax assessments is necessary to support education, in part because of reductions in state and federal aid. A school budget referendum is scheduled for May 21.

In a letter presenting the budget, Nielsen acknowledged an “unusually divisive” Town Meeting last year, a reference to deep differences of opinion about a proposal to build a municipal center to combine police, fire and administrative services into a single building.

Nielsen said this year’s budget reflects an effort to acknowledge those concerns and respond to residents’ expectations.

It’s becoming more difficult for municipal government to represent the town’s wishes accurately, he said, because of a general trend of disengagement.

Ten years ago, Nielsen said, town leaders were concerned because only about 250 of the town’s approximately 6,000 residents were showing up to cast their votes during the annual Town Meeting.

However, attendance hasn’t improved in recent years, he said. It has continued to decline.

Last year, he said, only 110 people attended.

“To me, it’s just a shame that people fought and died for democracy in this country, and people are not participating in that democracy,” he said.

Twenty-two warrant articles will be presented to voters at the meeting, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Messalonskee High School Performing Arts Center.

Last year, voters approved a total town budget of $4,391,982. This year, the Town Council and the Budget Committee have recommended a budget of $4,243,774 — a decrease of 3.37 percent.

If the budget is approved, the amount raised through taxation from local property owners will decrease by 5.17 percent, from $2,448,245 to $2,325,233.

One positive effect on the budget was the elimination of a $72,000 debt payment on the library building, which is now paid off. Other reductions were achieved by “a lot of nibbling,” Nielsen said.

Of every property tax dollar now raised in Oakland, 58 cents goes to support the school district, 34.4 cents goes to support municipal services, and 7.6 cents goes to support Kennebec County services.

Any changes in state revenue sharing also will affect the budget. Gov. Paul LePage has proposed eliminating state revenue sharing, which would cut about $325,000 from Oakland’s revenue.

If that were to happen, Nielsen said, it is likely that the town would try to reduce the services it provides, rather than seek additional town funding.

“If there are cuts to revenue sharing, we will have to rescale our program to whatever is available,” Nielsen said.

Some of that money probably would come in the form of reductions to the town’s road paving program, Nielsen said. Under the current budget, he said, the town is not quite keeping pace with road deterioration, and state cuts would cause the town to fall further behind.

The level of state funding will not be determined until the Legislature adopts a budget, which probably will occur next month.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
[email protected]

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