FAIRFIELD — Voters at Town Meeting on Monday night approved the municipal budget for the upcoming year, but at a slightly lower number than they could have approved.

The 37-article warrant, which took voters a little under two hours to approve at the Fairfield Community Center on Water Street, was comprised solely of the municipal budget, which had been a proposed $5.6 million.

Each article related to expenditures showed what the department involved had requested, what the Town Council recommended and what the town’s Budget Committee had recommended. In almost every article, the recommendations from the council and the committee were identical. In instances where they offered differing recommendations, voters decided between either the council’s or committee’s recommendation for inclusion in the budget.

All told, voters approved a budget that was $5,250 less than the total proposed. For each item, the proposed budget included whichever recommendation, whether from the council or the Budget Committee, was higher. In two cases voters selected the lower proposal.

Voters approved nearly $982,000 for salaries and operations for the Police Department, which was the department request and the Budget Committee’s recommendation. It was $250 less than the Town Council recommendation.

Voters also approved a budget for the Public Works and Cemetery departments of less than $1.15 million. This had been the departments’ requests as well as the recommendation of the Budget Committee, but the Town Council had recommended a budget of $5,000 more. The Budget Committee recommended adding $10,000 for fuel, while the council recommended $15,000.

When asked by a resident why there was a difference between the two recommendations, Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said it was largely a result of fuel costs for public works. Flewelling said the town generally budgets $60,000 for public works fuel, but that number routinely goes higher. She said the department had requested a smaller number to keep the town’s overall budget from getting too tight.

Voters didn’t try to pare down the budget at every opportunity, however.

One area where the Town Council and the Budget Committee had different recommendations was for the town’s annual Spring Clean Up event. During one week each May, residents can place larger household items out on the curb, and public works will pick them up and dispose of them. In past years, this has been budgeted at $20,000, which the Budget Committee recommended this year; but Flewelling said that does not cover the full cost of the cleanup. When the waste collection, staffing costs, fuel costs and the cost of disposing of the tons of trash are all taken into account, it actually costs closer to $50,000.

Town Councilor Aaron Rowden told the audience that with the alternative $10,000 choice recommended by the Town Council, the town instead would have offered one or two free days for residents to take their larger items to Central Maine Disposal instead of a townwide collection.

Some audience members thought the council’s recommendation would equate to a larger savings, but Flewelling said the money that would have been spent on that service would be used by public works doing other projects, such as working on roads or parks.

Councilor Beverly Busque said one problem with the townwide pickup is that people from neighboring towns often put their large items on the roadsides in Fairfield, which adds to the cost of the service.

Residents voted to appropriate $20,000.

This year’s cleanup week, which begins May 15, includes a new wrinkle to try to address that. The town is limiting residents to 10 items; in past years there was no limit.

Residents also approved a slightly larger appropriation for the Fairfield Interfaith Food Pantry. The council recommended $6,000 and the Budget Committee recommended $7,500. The food pantry serves Fairfield and Benton. Flewelling said the council’s reasoning for a smaller recommendation was that Benton could contribute more toward the pantry. However, voters chose to appropriate $7,500.

One item that spurred debate among those attending involved appropriating $250,000 from the town’s undesignated fund balance to reduce the amount that has to be raised through taxation. Rowden warned the crowd that doing so was “not a sustainable practice to lower taxes.” He said it was not addressing the actual issue of the tax rate, but rather shifting the problem to the future by hiding it. Residents voted to appropriate $250,000 nevertheless.

“It’s going to catch up to us eventually,” he said.

When asked by an audience member, Flewelling said the undesignated fund had about $2.5 million in it. She said voters last year approved using $150,000 from the fund to offset taxes, but they wouldn’t know what the tax rate would be until other state funding sources were solidified. There was a short discussion on the overall size of the budget and some residents’ opinion that it is too large. This led to Council Chairman Michael Taylor telling the attendees that if they wanted fewer services and smaller departments, they had the ability to make it happen, but there needed to be consensus.

“You need to come to us and tell us that,” he said.

There were no municipal elections, as those are held in November. There will be a similar town meeting-style gathering for consideration of the proposed school budget for School Administrative District 49 — which includes Fairfield, Clinton, Albion and Benton — on May 15, and a June 13 referendum among district residents on the budget.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis