Elected officials in West Gardiner are seeking authority to spend a little more money this year, but as in years past, the Board of Selectmen anticipate tapping excise tax receipts to lessen the burden on taxpayers.

While it’s too soon to know what the town’s mill rate will be, Greg Couture, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said he thinks it will go up from what it is now — $12.30 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

“We haven’t had that much new construction to take care of the increases,” Couture said. “And the school budget, they’re just getting started on that, so we’ll have to wait to see how that falls out.”

When voters gather at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday for Town Meeting, they will consider a town spending plan for $1,243,000. Selectmen are seeking to appropriate $444,000, use $746,000 from excise tax and $53,000 from the town’s surplus.

Along with routine expenses such as payroll and insurance and the expected increases there, the town needs a snow plow truck and is asking for $30,000 for a used one.

“A couple of our plow trucks probably won’t take a sticker this year, so we’re looking for a short-term replacement until we pay off the one we’re paying off now,” Couture said. “We have two fairly new ones that are fine. But the third and fourth ones are 18 years old.”

West Gardiner contracts with Gardiner Ambulance for its emergency response service and the cost of that is increasing nearly four-fold this years. Selectmen are seeking $45,000 to pay that cost in this budget year, which started Feb. 1.

Couture said the town had not been paying for the uncollectable bills from people who have used the service and have not paid. Those debts are now factored into the town’s bill.

While West Gardiner’s population is relatively small at about 3,400 at the last census, the service is available to anyone who needs an ambulance, including drivers on the Maine Turnpike and Interstate 95 pass and those who stop op at the West Gardiner Service Plaza.

“There are people who use the service who haven’t paid,” Couture said. “We’re responsible for those calls.”

While the ambulance service has done a good job trying to collect the outstanding debts, some people don’t pay their bills, he said. The only recourse West Gardiner officials have to send a letter to scofflaws and to pay that bill.

Selectmen are also seeking $10,000 to fix or demolish the town’s old garage. A year ago, voters overwhelmingly approved a request to borrow $300,000 to build the new garage; town officials had set aside $130,000 for the project.

Representatives from both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the town’s insurance company have been out to look at the building and recommended a review by a structural engineer. Couture said the engineer looked at the building two weeks ago, and determined that neither the old garage nor the salt shed poses a hazard. With the requested $10,000, town officials can start making repairs to the structures so the old garage can be re- purposed.

Town officials are also asking for approval to allocate $23,000, which would come from the surplus, for matching funds for two grants the fire department is seeking. One grant is for a new firetruck, which is expected to cost $275,000; the town’s match would be $17,000. The other is for new self-contained breathing apparatus, which is expected to cost $60,000; the town’s match would be $6,000.

Residents will also be asked to approve a change to the minimum lot size ordinance to include commercial lots. Couture said across West Gardiner, a number of commercial lots exist, but they may not meet the town’s minimum lot size of 60,000 square feet. To ensure that those smaller commercial lots cannot be developed for a home, no septic system permit could be issued for the parcel under the proposed change.

In West Gardiner, elections are held from 8 a.m., to noon in the fire hall on Spears Corner Road.

This year, three seats are up, and the races are uncontested.

Couture is seeking re-election to the Board of Selectmen, Road Commissioner Gary Hickey is running for another term, and Deb Couture is running for reelection to the School Administrative District 11 School Board. The terms for all three is three years.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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