PITTSFIELD — After more than six hours of debate, public input, allegations of back-door dealings and a close look at closing Maine’s only municipally-owned community theater, the Town Council still had not come to a decision on the 2019 budget by 12:30 a.m. Thursday.

The especially long meeting started as a debate over whether new municipal funding should be dedicated to road repairs or the police department and devolved to attacks on the town manager, councilors and complaints about a proposed 8 to 10 percent tax increase.

About 30 residents attended Wednesday’s meeting, many of whom voiced frustration with a projected 8 to 10 percent tax increase included in a $3.68 million budget approved in December.

By 12:30, the council had settled on $156,918 in cuts to the budget — about half of which would come from closing the Pittsfield Community Theater in July.

Officials said those changes would reduce the tax increase to about six percent, rather than eight to 10. It does not include taxes to be collected from School Administrative District 53 or Somerset County.

Normally, officials said if a budget was not adopted the council could have operated on the 2018 budget and taken more time to come up with changes, but because of a technicality — the budget was re-opened after it was adopted — the town charter required the revisions to be completed Wednesday night.

“I understand what all of you have to do and that it’s not easy,” said resident Andi Vigue, who is also CEO of Pittsfield-based Cianbro, one of the largest construction companies in the state. “Nothing you can do will make everyone happy, but as a lifetime resident of the town I can say behavior on this council since December and even tonight is borderline unethical and could be considered illegal.”

Vigue criticized the council for the way the budget change impacting the police department and road repairs was done last-minute at a Dec. 18 meeting.

At that meeting, the council approved a $3,681,801 operating budget and voted to move $130,000 from the police department budget to the highway budget.

They money was scheduled to pay for an administrative assistant at the police department, a new full-time patrol officer and a raise of $10,000 for the police chief, who said Wednesday night he is among the lowest paid chiefs in the state with a salary of $52,000. “After countless hours, workshops and meetings, out of the blue the four of you decide to make a bold change,” Vigue said to the council. “That’s fine. You have to do what you have to do, but what embarrasses me as a citizen of this town is what you did to the police chief. That’s wrong, to arbitrarily cut (his pay) in public with no discussion.”

Other residents Wednesday night complained in general about the tax increase, though many said at the same time, a lack of funding for police and bad roads are also problems.

“The only way I survive is I keep tearing down my barns to cut my taxes,” said resident John Blomgren, who is 89-years-old and said he could not afford to stay in his home.

At the same time, Blomgren said roads in town are deteriorating.

“If I live more than five years I’m in trouble,” he said. “There are so many potholes it’s destroying my car. It’s dangerous.”

Another resident, Amanda Collamore, said while roads are a problem, she was upset to see funding diverted from the police department.

“I’ve always enjoyed the theater,” she said. “I grew up in Pittsfield and I love the community. I want my son to have the experience of going to the theater. But I’m tired of paying tax dollars to something that’s failing.”

The more than six hour meeting — which started at 6:30 p.m. and lasted past 12:30 a.m. — also included allegations of mismanagement thrown at Town Manager Kathryn Ruth from a former councilor, Marie Manning, and resident Pete Vigue, chairman at Cianbro.

“Frankly I find this whole thing ridiculous and as a councilor I’m appalled we’re even at this point,” said Councilor Debra Billings, who was elected in November and took office Wednesday night. “I’m not taking responsibility for any of this garbage, so fix it.”

Earlier in the evening the council voted to appoint District 1 Councilor Timothy Nichols as mayor for the 2019 year.

Nichols was elected by a 4-3 vote, with councilors Heather Donahue, Howard Margolskee and Billings voting against him.

Donahue was unanimously appointed to serve as deputy mayor.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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