Editor’s note: Some copies of Wednesday’s paper mistakenly contained placeholder text for this story. A complete version of the story will be reprinted in Thursday’s paper. 

OAKLAND — Voters took a little less than an hour to approve a $4.3 million annual budget Tuesday evening at their Town Meeting.

About 80 voters gathered in the Messalonskee High School Performing Arts Center to vote on the 22 articles on the meeting warrant.

There was little public discussion about the budget, which includes a 1 percent across-the-board pay raise for town employees, additional spending on health insurance and funding for new vehicles for the Fire and Public Works departments. The budget is about $23,000 larger than the 2014 spending plan.

Spending increases are balanced by new revenue and savings in heating and automobile fuel as part of a joint purchase with the Regional School Unit 18 school district, and the overall cost to voters might be less than last year.

The budget doesn’t include school taxes from RSU 18. Voters will act on that budget May 19 in a districtwide ballot referendum.

The amount the town needs to raise from property taxes, $2,249,660, is almost $8,000 less than the amount raised last year. Town Manager Gary Bowman, in remarks to the assembly, said Oakland municipal government had developed a “positive working relationship” with the school district that includes savings on vehicle maintenance and snow removal costs in addition to fuel.

The addition of about $41,000 in revenue from a Tax Increment Financing District set up by the town last year to shelter property tax value from the construction of the Summit Natural Gas line in town will help reduce the tax burden.

Most of the revenue, about $32,400, is dedicated to paying for part of the town’s code enforcement office while the remainder pays for the town’s annual dues to the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments.

Most articles were passed quickly with “yea” votes from the audience. Budgeting for social services, however, generated discussion among voters and members of the Town Council.

The budget recommended by the council and budget advisory committee cut the amount of spending on social services from $16,400 last year to $12,750 for the coming year.

Of the 14 agencies, nine — including the American Red Cross, Family Violence Project and KVCAP Transportation — saw the amount provided by Oakland halved from $1,000 to $500.

Resident Eric Sharpe remarked that two councilors had voted against making the recommendation and questioned whether the town should be cutting funding to services for Oakland residents.

“Has the number of people in Oakland who use these services gone down by half?” he asked the councilors.

Councilor Donald Borman said that he had voted against the cuts and that the agencies provided important services to the community.

“I think we should provide more to them,” he said.

After the meeting, Councilor Mark Fisher said that he had also voted against cutting the services budget. The council had decreased the money it provided to agencies year after year, Fisher said.

Despite the concerns, voters overwhelmingly passed the social services budget, although it was one of the few articles that received audible “nay” votes.

Before the voting, Town Manager Bowman addressed the assembly. Bowman started as town manager about seven months ago, replacing longtime town manager Peter Nielsen. Speaking to voters, Bowman laid out what he had accomplished since starting, including setting up a committee to organize community events such as this summer’s OakFest and working to bring the town into voluntarily compliance with Department of Labor regulations. The town was experiencing a surge of business interest, Bowman added, which would help reduce property tax rates for residents.

“I want to make Oakland the best little town in central Maine,” Bowman concluded.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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