FARMINGTON — In a surprise vote Monday night at the annual Town Meeting, Farmington residents rallied together to appropriate an additional $250,000 for a new truck for the town’s public works department.

The vote followed impassioned pleas from the department’s foreman and director who spoke to the crowd of approximately 120 Town Meeting voters about their struggle to plow the town’s 200.4 miles of roads over a particularly tough winter with decades old equipment that routinely broke down. In total, voters approved a $1,580,734 budget for the department.

Residents praised the department and its new head, Philip Hutchins, for valiant efforts in the face of back-to-back storms delivering more than 18 inches of snow at a time. One resident described how impressed she was by the department’s effectiveness in clearing sidewalks despite broken equipment.

Town leaders said they had also wrestled with the department’s predicament but had been reluctant to ask residents to shoulder a higher tax burden.

“This is the struggle that we have,” Town Manager Richard Davis said. “We have all these needs to be met, but I’m cognizant of the taxpayers.”

The town also came together in support of the Farmington Library, whose budget struggles and dwindling endowment have left it facing cuts to staff and operating hours. Residents approved a $196,029 contribution toward the library with some residents arguing for the library’s role in strengthening democracy.

“We can’t all afford to send our kids to college, but we can afford to send them to the library,” one resident told the crowd.

The town approved nearly $9,000 more than the library had requested and more than $38,000 more than the select board had recommended. The additional monies will go toward an unforeseen hike in health insurance costs. It is not clear, however, if even the approved budget will allow the library to maintain its current staffing levels and operating hours.

The outpourings followed an earlier discussion over whether residents should allow the town to exceed the state mandated property tax levy limit. Responding to one resident who argued the town should stay within the state limit, Davis explained that the limit assumed the state contributed the full 55 percent toward education as mandated by Maine voters. The state had yet to hold up its end of the bargain, Davis argued.

Voters sided with Davis, voting 89 to 29 to allow the town to increase the levy limit, before vastly exceeding the town’s projected budget overrun.

In addition to the public works and library budgets, voters approved $1,244,941 for the police department, which accounts for a 1 percent pay increase for union members and a 0.6 percent pay increase for the department’s management, and $516,057 for the fire department. The fire department budget represents a nearly 19 percent increase over last year reflecting the department’s move to full-time staff and a 0.6 percent pay increase. Voters also agreed to the budget committee and select board’s recommendation of $706,130 for general administration, including $248,202 for administration and $245,274 for the treasurer and town clerk.

In elections, incumbent Stephen Bunker and candidate H. Scott Landry Jr. were elected to three-year terms on the Farmington select board with 56 and 70 votes, respectively. Landry Jr. will take the seat of departing selectman Andrew Buckland. Tami Labul and Ryan Morgan were also re-elected to the RSU 9 board of directors with 63 and 54 votes. All candidates ran unopposed.

Kate McCormick — 861-9218

[email protected]

Twitter: @KateRMcCormick

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