SKOWHEGAN — Voters approved full funding for the Skowhegan Free Public Library at the annual Town Meeting Monday night and agreed to buy a piece of land for a new public safety building and to repeal the ban on fireworks sales in Skowhegan.

Residents breezed through early voting on a spending package of $11,332,307, which is up $547,978, or about 5 percent over the current budget that was approved last June at Town Meeting.

The tax rate going into Monday’s meeting stands at $20 for every $1,000 in property valuation.

Before Monday’s 2 1/2 hour Town Meeting, Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand said increases can be seen in wages and benefits across the board for municipal employees. She said wages are up $55,000 in the proposed budget, while benefits, including health insurance, are up about $184,000, or 12.6 percent.

In the employee line of the budget, Almand said there is a proposal to increase the hours of two employees from part time to full time. One would be a collections clerk in the front office and another would be a seasonal winter position at the Highway Department.

Almand said other increases are proposed in capital reserve accounts in the amount of $201,000 for all town departments. The majority of the increase is in the Highway Department for roads and sidewalks for about $150,000.

Skowhegan residents approved these other spending lines Monday night:

• $1,569,299 for general government, including the Finance Department, the town manager’s office, building maintenance and economic and community development.

• $1,453,092 for the Police Department.

• $849,863 for the Fire Department.

• $858,821 for solid waste management.

• $471,792 for summer roads.

• $655,458 for winter roads.

• $467,657 for Parks and Recreation.

• $1,681,132 for capital expenditures and debt retirement.

Almand said this year the Budget Committee and the Board of Selectmen agreed on almost all of the spending proposals. One area that there was disagreement was in Article 32, funding for the library. Another was how to use surplus money this year.

Selectmen, in a 3-2 vote, recommended $107,775 for the library; while the Budget Committee, in a 4-2 vote, recommended $120,294, which is the request made by the library and the most that can be raised and appropriated for the library. Residents approved the requested amount with no discussion.

Budget Committee member Christian Savage said the dueling options gave voters a chance to choose one or the other.

Voters also agreed to use $1 million in surplus to reduce the tax rate in the coming year.

The repeal of the ban on fireworks sales came after years of wrangling with the economic benefits of selling the fire crackers and rockets in town.

Almand said the town follows state law on the use of fireworks but banned the sale in a referendum vote in 2012. She said the question in 2012 was worded in “a three-way split,” which might have confused voters, and that 60 percent of residents did not want a complete ban on fireworks sales.

Under that rule, residents could buy fireworks in neighboring towns and shoot them off in Skowhegan, but the town didn’t get any economic benefit from sales elsewhere. Now a new business can set up shop in Skowhegan.

Residents also approved initiating an ordinance that prohibits registered sex offenders from living near schools or designated safe zones around playgrounds and ball fields.

Rules of residence would apply to anyone convicted of a felony class A, B or C sex offense against persons who had not yet turned 14 years old, whether the offense occurred in Maine or elsewhere.

A convicted sex offender, under the ordinance, could not live, rent or own a home within 750 feet of a public or private elementary, middle or secondary school or any of the “safe zones” in Skowhegan. Safe zones are public parks, athletic fields or recreational facilities.

Safe zones in Skowhegan are Bucky Quinn Field on South Factory Street, Pat Quinn Ball Field on East Maple Street, Memorial Field on East Maple Street, Carl Wright Ball Fields at the Community Center and Lake George Regional Park on U.S. Route 2, at the Canaan town line.

The most discussion Monday night came during debate on whether to authorize the Board of Selectmen to purchase a piece of property off East Madison Road for a combined police and fire department for $55,000. Voters agreed to the purchase after Fire Chief Shawn Howard explained the pros and cons of the proposal.

Skowhegan voters also agreed to adopt the Somerset County rural cultural plan.

Organizers said in February when the plan was presented to selectmen that they wanted to create a new economic base in central Maine by tapping into assets already in place and creating a destination economy and new jobs along the way.

Tourism already is an important economic driver for Somerset County and could be further enhanced by leveraging the region’s creative resources through marketing and development, said Skowhegan resident Jon Kimbell, chairman of the Somerset Cultural Planning Committee, a project of Wesserunsett Arts Council, which created the plan.

Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan, a non-resident who was allowed to speak at Town Meeting, got emotional talking about the plan and the future of Skowhegan and Somerset County. She noted last weekend’s “kick ass” Moose Festival at the fairgrounds showed the importance of planning for economic success.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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