MADISON — Residents are being asked to consider a bare-bones municipal budget at the annual Town Meeting on Monday, including an average 11 percent drop in department budgets and the loss of a local police department.

“This is kind of an emergency year because we’re dealing with the loss in valuation at the paper mill that hasn’t been reflected in our state valuation and hasn’t brought us any additional school funding,” interim Town Manager Tim Curtis said. “This year’s budget is extremely tight. We can’t continue to expect this kind of budget every year, because we’re going to have to pay for roads and capital projects.”

Residents will have two proposed budgets to consider at Monday’s meeting: a $2.41 million budget brought forward by the Board of Selectmen and a $2.49 million budget presented by the Advisory Board.

The $90,000 difference in the two budgets represents the Board of Selectmen’s recommendation that the town contract for police services with the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office, while the Advisory Board has kept the local Madison Police Department, with its own police chief and health insurance plan, in the budget.

The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at the Elias Performing Arts Center at Madison Area Junior High School. Elections will be held Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Town Office.

Contested races include one selectman’s seat and two seats on the Anson-Madison Water District Board of Trustees. There are also three open seats on the Board of Directors for School Administrative District 59.

This is the first budget year to follow a loss of about $150 million in valuation at Madison Paper Industries, the town’s largest taxpayer. The loss in tax value represents about $2.2 million in lost revenue, according to Curtis. The valuation was revealed in August 2014, shortly after last year’s $3.2 million municipal budget was approved, and sent town officials scrambling to come up with revenue.

At a special town meeting in September, voters approved the use of $800,000 from the town’s general fund to offset a tax increase and the town established a $2.5 million line of credit.

Even so, the tax rate in Madison jumped 11 percent last year, from $17.53 per $1,000 of assessed value to $19.50. With the budgets being presented by the town and the school district for 2015-2016, there should be little to no increase in taxes this year, Curtis said. The difference between the budget proposal submitted by selectmen and that favored by the Advisory Board would be about 50 cents in the tax rate.

There are no capital expense projects, such as major building repairs or road construction projects, planned in the coming year, something that Curtis said won’t make a big difference this year but is not sustainable in the long term. The main project that needs attention and will have to be overlooked this year is reconstruction of Heald Street.

“That’s one thing that kind of got bumped last year, and it had to be bumped again this year,” Curtis said. The 11 percent average cut across departments will manifest itself mainly in the elimination of two part-time positions at the Town Office and the proposed Police Department consolidation.

Last year, after the drop in value at the mill was announced, residents brought forward a petition to eliminate the Board of Assessors, saying that giving assessing duties to the Board of Selectmen would inform them better during budget season.

With the change in structure, the town will be contracting an outside assessor and there is no need in the Town Office for the part-time positions, which were designed to support the Board of Assessors, Curtis said. The change means a net savings of about $15,000. “When the town voted to eliminate the Board of Assessors, those positions went with it,” Curtis said.

Last week residents gave initial approval to a $9.56 million school budget, down four percent from 2014-2015. Final approval of that budget will also be voted on on Tuesday. “Between the school budget and the town budget we’re proposing, that’s about $1.3 million less than what was raised in taxation last year. The goal by doing that (is) to keep our tax rate as flat as possible,” Curtis said.

SELECTMEN CANDIDATES

Incumbent Paul Fortin, 59, is the owner of PR Fortin & Sons Land & Timber, a logging and real estate company. He has served one term on the board and has also held other positions in town including on the school board, as director of Madison Electric Works, on the planning and advisory boards and as a former president of the recreation committee.

Fortin said he hopes to be re-elected so he can continue to work on addressing the revenue shortfall caused by the devaluation at Madison Paper Industries and help attract young families to Madison to reduce the number of vacant homes and declining property values. He said it’s important that the town be aware of its spending habits to keep the tax rate down.

“After we address the seriousness of our revenue shortfall, I’d say our No. 2 priority is to develop a program to attract young families who want to live in our town,” Fortin said.

While on the board, Fortin said, he was able to work on attracting new families with projects such as the new parking lot and playground on Main Street and the new ice skating rink on Weston Avenue. In order to attract more people to Madison, he said, the town needs to maintain a low tax rate, have amenities such as sports fields and playgrounds and have a good relationship with the school board, something Fortin said the Board of Selectmen has worked on over the last three years.

“Undoubtedly, the hardest piece of work and the biggest accomplishment was taking the cards that were dealt us. With the situation in town, the (tax) rate could have easily been in the mid- to high 20s; but through a lot of hard work, we’ve kept it under 20 (dollars) without borrowing any money. That work was done in conjunction with the school district, and I feel really good about it,” Fortin said.

Fortin said he also hopes to continue working on union contract negotiations within the town so town employees can feel good about their jobs and departments can have good working relationships with each other.

Brandon Hagopian, 36, is a health teacher at Central High School and Middle School in Corinth. He has no experience on the board, but he has served on the Anson-Madison Sanitary District board.

“I was born and raised in Madison and definitely want the best for the town,” Hagopian said. “The main reason I’m running is I want to see the business side of Madison start to get going again. We have a lot of empty buildings on Main Street and a lot of empty homes.”

Hagopian’s other priorities include hiring a town manager and working to keep the tax rate low.

“I know our taxes are very high, and I’d like to find a solution, whether that’s working with the school board or the community. You never know what the mill is going to do. It’s something I don’t want to get caught up in again,” Hagopian said.

Bringing new businesses to Madison and building a new tax base through economic development and tax-increment financing programs are the best solution to keeping the tax rate low, he said.

“Once businesses get going, they’ll start paying taxes and hiring people in town. When people start moving in, they’ll start renting apartments,” he said.

Hagopian also said that attracting young families to Madison is important to grow the town.

“I’m invested in Madison. I’ve seen this town in its heyday, and everything was beautiful. I want to be a problem solver. I really love this town,” he said.

Raymond Sheehan, 63, is a tow truck operator at his own business, Ray’s Garage & 24-Hour Towing. He has no experience serving on any boards or committees in town.

“I don’t know a lot about what goes on yet, but I’m a fast learner,” he said.

If elected, Sheehan said, he hopes to address tax rate’s rise after the devaluation at Madison Paper Industries.

“We have to stop spending money we don’t have,” Sheehan said. “We just lost a big tax base at the mill, and now they’re twisting everyone in town for it. Maybe it’s time we start looking at all the programs in town and get them in line with what we have to spend.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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