SKOWHEGAN — Selectmen have made it easier for the town’s social service agencies to receive town funding by cutting by half the number of signatures required on petitions requesting money at the annual Town Meeting.

The move will affect efforts by a dozen groups, including the Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Skowhegan and the Skowhegan Free Public Library, which get a portion of their annual operating budget from the town.

The board agreed to reduce the number of required signatures on funding petitions from 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election to just 5 percent.

Based on the Nov. 6 election for governor, more than 3,000 Skowhegan residents went to the polls, marking the 5 percent number of required signatures at 164, Town Manager Christine Almand said.

The selectmen can set a limit, or a cap on spending, on warrant articles for the annual Town Meeting in June. In order to have a social service agency’s requested amount appear on the warrant, as opposed to the selectmen’s recommendation, which could be lower, the agency must submit a petition, Almand said.

“The agencies are not required to do a petition, but it’s the only way to guarantee that their full request goes to Town Meeting,” she said.

The initial request to revise the petition requirements came in October from resident David James at the direction of trustees at Skowhegan History House.

In his letter to the Board of Selectmen, James noted that the high number of required signatures “is an impediment for the town’s service organizations,” adding that the requirement was modeled after the state’s more demanding petition requirement, which he contends was crafted to discourage statewide initiatives and referendums.

James goes on to say that the 10 percent requirement was wasteful, diverting volunteer resources of groups already enjoying community support to gathering signatures rather than to the work of the organization.

He said the policy as it stood “is a severe burden” for organizations with small staffs.

James asked the board to consider eliminating the petition requirement entirely, limiting the time requirement or lowering the number of needed signatures from 10 percent of the gubernatorial vote to 5 percent, to which the board agreed.

“In many other towns they don’t necessarily require agencies to do petitions. That’s just something that Skowhegan started requiring a few years ago,” Almand said.

The organizations affected by the change are the public library, History House, Coburn Park, Main Street Skowhegan, the Chamber, Kennebec Valley Community Action Program for transportation and child development services, the Family Violence Project, Spectrum Generations, Hospice Volunteers, Sexual Assault Crisis and Support and the local Food Cupboard.

The changes take effect immediately for next year’s annual Town Meeting. All funding requests with the required number of signatures are due no later than Dec. 31.

Any organization that chooses not to file a petition, the amount that organization is to be offered on the Town Meeting warrant will be determined by the Board of Selectmen.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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