CHELSEA — The budget approved by townspeople Thursday night increased slightly from this year, but its effect on the tax rate is still unknown.

Residents approved the higher amount on every article with different recommendations from the Board of Selectmen and the Budget Committee in the annual Town Meeting, held at Chelsea Elementary School.

The $923,091 approved budget is $5,500 higher than this year’s budget.

The lengthiest discussions concerned the $1 million bond for road work that residents approved, and donations to charitable or service organizations.

The selectmen recommended spending about $52,000 more than Budget Committee members, but residents sided with the committee on the two articles it recommended that the select board did not — funding for the Hubbard Free Library and the Chelsea Food Bank.

Town Manager Scott Tilton said the effect of the budget on residents’ tax bills won’t be known until assessors send out the new property values in the next two weeks based on the recent revaluation.

The selectmen passed a policy before this budget process to change the eligibility requirements for charitable organizations. Organizations have to be a nonprofit, nondenominational, nonpolitical, nongovernmental, local and unable to raise their own money, according to Tilton.

The Chelsea Food Bank, along with a senior group, the Chelsea Grange and the Chelsea Historical Society, didn’t make the cut.

The select board recommended adding $1,000 to general assistance to replace the amount it proposed not giving to the food bank, but residents went with the Budget Committee’s recommendation to fund the food bank.

Residents also objected to the select board’s recommendation to cut $2,500 for services from Hubbard Free Library in Hallowell.

The selectmen said when targeting donations, they looked to cut from places that weren’t providing necessities like food and services to families.

“We just are in really tough times, and it’s an area we felt we could cut, I thought,” said Ben Smith, chairman of the board.

Residents brought up complaints about how road maintenance has been done in the past during discussions of the summer road maintenance budget item and the bond question.

They eventually approved the selectmen’s $245,380 request for summer roads and bridges, an increase of $85,000 over last year.

Selectman Michael Pushard said the road maintenance budget has been an easy target in years past, and continuous cuts have left many roads in shambles.

“Our brakes and struts and tires are taking a beating,” he said.

The $1 million road bond allows the town to borrow that money next year and pay back the sum over eight years.

The estimated $133,646 annual payments won’t be in addition to the road maintenance requests, Pushard said. He said they would request less money for roads while using the bond money and paying off the debt.

The selectmen and Tilton said the town needs the bond to tackle large road projects, which can’t be completed without significant investment.

Smith said there will come a time when the town isn’t able to maintain all roads to the same standard they had been maintained in the past.

“I’m only in support of this bond article because I don’t want to necessarily see people living on public roads” have them taken away or turned into gravel, Smith said.

Another disputed topic was the funding for high school busing. The select board recommended funding $25,000, down slightly from past funding, and the Budget Committee recommended cutting the past request in half, to $15,875. The board’s recommendation was accepted by voters.

Tilton said the Budget Committee’s cut would have meant eliminating the bus service that takes high school students from their homes in the morning and brings them to bus stops for area high school buses.

Some residents spoke out against the $26.5 million Regional School Unit 12 budget that was approved during a meeting of the eight towns in the district on June 8.

Smith said the town has been trying to hold its budget flat for the last years, but the school budget has continued to increase each year.

“The RSU has been swamping our budget,” he said, “and we have been paying a mil rate increase because of that.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663
[email protected]

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