PITTSTON  — When voters turn out at Town Meeting on Saturday, they will be asked to consider a municipal budget nearly 5 percent higher than the current one.

The property tax rate in Pittston is now $14.60 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. For a $120,000 house, the annual property tax, barring any exemptions, is $1,788.

It’s too soon to say yet what the property tax will be for the new budget year. Budgets for School Administrative District 11 and Kennebec County government have yet to be completed and approved.

If there is a tax increase on the municipal portion, Greg Lumbert, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said it would be only about a half a mil.

The spending plan being proposed at the March 16 Town Meeting totals $1.3 million. Of that, about $612,000 would be levied as property tax. The balance, paying mostly for road-related maintenance and expenses, would come from excise tax and town surplus funds.

The Town Meeting starts at 9:45 a.m. at the Pittston-Randolph Consolidated School on Pittston School Street.

Warrant articles include routine spending on salaries and related expenses for town officials and running the town office, training and replacing computers. Other town obligations include debt service on the Village Fire Station, paying for town residents to have access to the Hatch Hill landfill in Augusta, care of the town’s cemeteries and to upgrade and maintain equipment for the fire department.

Selectmen are asking residents to approve expanding the hours of the town’s administrative secretary from 30 hours a week to 35 hours a week for nine months starting April 1; that requires additional funds for salary, retirement, health insurance and payroll taxes. Individually, the selectmen have said the job is becoming more complicated.

“There’s a lot more to keep up with coming from the state,” Selectwoman Jean Ambrose said. “With grants and General Assistance, there are just more demands on her time. She does a lot of good research.”

The spending plan also includes the final obligations under the settlement agreement that town officials reached with Greg and Arlene Snow over the contamination of their well from the town’s salt shed at the highway garage on Route 27. In September 2018, town residents voted at a special town meeting to replace the contaminated well. Finding good water required two holes to be drilled. The total cost of the project is $80,994.68. At Town Meeting, voters will be asked to approve funding to pay the final cost of $17,415.

“This was the best answer,” Selectman Roger Linton said. “It was not (Snow’s) fault. When someone needs help, it’s time to help them.”

The spending plan also reflects the higher cost of dispatch services that the state’s Regional Communication Center in Augusta provides through a contract. At $32,706, it’s $6,206 higher than the current year.

Along with the increases, the cost for other budget items have dropped or been eliminated. The town has completed putting its tax information into the Trio system, and the cost associated with it has ended. The proposed contract with Gardiner Ambulance for rescue services has come in at $32,195, a $7,5oo decrease from the current year’s cost.

In many cases, there was broad agreement among the selectmen and the recommendation of members of the town’s budget committee on spending. But on two issues, the selectmen were divided, and the budget committee recommended against the spending for access to the Gardiner Public Library and the Boys and Girls Club of Kennebec Valley. In in both cases, the selectmen voted 1-1-1, and the Budget Committee voted 3-4.

Lumbert said he abstained on the vote for the library funding request of $24,574 and initially abstained on the Boys and Girls Club request of $14,873.

Every year, the Gardiner City Council sets the fees for neighboring towns to pay to be able to use the library. The City Council took the recommendation to set the fee based on population after several years of considering how best to set a price.

“I support the library 100 percent and its contents. I support education. But I think that the library should be able to tell us how many people use it,”  Lumbert said. “(Ingrid Stanchfield) from the Boys and Girls Club came to the last meeting and told us how many people used it, and I will support it at Town Meeting.”

Ambrose said she voted no on the library funding and on the funding for the Boys and Girls Club.

“It’s not the library, and it’s not the kids. It’s the attitude that goes with the fees,” she said.

While the library has an advisory board that includes representatives from the member towns, Ambrose said, they don’t have much input.

Linton, a retired teacher and school administrator, said he supported the library spending. He also supported the Boys and Girls Club.

“I never saw a book hurt a kid, unless it’s filthy stuff,” he said. “I differ from a lot people in that I have been in the schools, and I see what a difference it makes.”

 

TOWN ELECTIONS

Pittston will hold its election for town officials from noon to 7 p.m. on the Tuesday after Town Meeting — March 18 — in the Town Office at 38 Whitefield Road.

Greg Lumbert Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

Selectman Greg Lumbert, who was first elected to the board three years ago as a write-in, is running for re-election. Rodney Hembree III is also running for that seat.

Lumbert, 62, is a Maine native who has lived in Pittston for 17 years.

His term has been marked by ups and downs, and while he believes in the team concept, it hasn’t come easily.

“If we have the interests of people only, I don’t think you can go wrong,” Lumbert said. “I sincerely love the town, and I like working with the citizens, and I have done that hundreds of times.”

If he’s re-elected, Lumbert said he intends to continue to work on several things he started in his current term.

One is a grief support group that he started in November. Pittston has experienced an “astronomical” number of deaths in the last year, he said. And it’s something that both he and his wife, Michele, have experienced in the deaths of his son and her two children. It meets every other Tuesday in Pittston or Randolph.

“If you get a room full of people who have experienced grief, they understand what you’re saying. But if you haven’t, you really don’t,” Lumbert said. “I think a lot of people fear going to those meetings because they don’t want to show their feelings, or they don’t know what to expect. But we make it very informal.”

During his current term, he worked with the town staff and other elected officials to install a security system at the town office and put in place policies to ensure town employees have a safe workplace. He also supports training and education for town staff.

“In today’s world, you need training to do these kinds of jobs,” Lumbert said.

He has also worked with the selectmen to meet with homeowners at risk of foreclosure to help develop plans so they won’t lose their homes. And he has testified at the statehouse about the state’s opiate addiction problem and said he will continue to support what it takes to get it under control.

“I don’t do this for money. I do it because I like to help people,” Lumbert said.

In the next three years, he’d like to see work start on developing property on the shore of the Kennebec River that the town acquired a couple of years ago. Pittston is now in the process of acquiring an island in the Kennebec across from the town’s land.

“It’s just in the beginning stages,” Lumbert said.

A deputy with the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, Lumbert is also Randolph’s police chief and code enforcement officer. He is also the fair hearing officer for General Assistance in both Pittston and Randolph. He’s the certified health officer for Randolph and has been appointed a Maine Revenue agent. He also owns L and L Services.

Rodney Hembree III Photo courtesy of Rodney Hembree III

Hembree, 46, said he was motivated to run by a very personal reason.

Hembree’s daughter, Tabytha, was killed in September 2017 when the vehicle she was driving was struck by a dump truck hauling a tractor at the intersection of Old Cedar Grove Road and Route 27 in Pittston on the first day of school. The 16-year-old was driving her brother, Alex, who was then 12, to school. Alexander was injured but recovered.

Hembree said he and his family have received a great deal of support from both Pittston and Gardiner residents in the aftermath of the crash.

“I want to give back to the town of Pittston for what it has given us and me as an individual,” he said. “This is the best way I can do that.”

The Hembree family moved to Pittston after Rodney retired from 20 years in the U.S. Navy as a first class petty officer. Hembree had worked as a cook on submarines where his duties included working with staff, ordering food stores and looking at contracts.

“I managed staff, and I know how to make things work,” he said.

Hembree, who is originally from California, said he fell in love with Maine after serving on a submarine that traveled from Hawaii to Kittery in 1996. It arrived in the middle of February, he said, and he loved it. His father-in-law (James Lothridge) lived in Gardiner, and after he and his wife visited in the fall of 2001, they bought property in Pittston.

He’s studying business management with an emphasis in accounting at the University of Maine at Augusta, and he expects to graduate in the fall.

“I want to go in with an open mind. I want to learn what’s going on and how I can make things better or easier,” Hembree said. “I have started going to the (Board of Selectmen) meetings, and it looks like it’s a lot of work, and it looks like a lot to figure out.”

He said he’s never held elective office before.

“I am pushing my name out there. I don’t know if everybody knows me. If they do know me, it’s for the reason I would not choose,” Hembree said.

Three other races appear on the Pittston ballot. Four seats are open on the Budget Committee, and three candidates have filed papers — Jane Hubert, Cheryl Peaslee and Sam Snow. A seat is open on the Personnel Board, but no one filed papers for it. Three seats are open on the Planning Board, and Jane Hubert and James Lothridge are running for two of them.

In addition, one director seat is open on the East Pittston Water District board, but no one is running for it.

After five years as a selectman, Linton, 77, has announced he’s stepping down after Town Meeting. Until earlier this month, he served as the board’s chairman.

Because of the timing, that seat will be filled by a special town election that will take place in conjunction with the state primary in June.

“It’s been a wonderful time, but I want to relax over the next few years,” Linton said.

As a teacher and administrator in School Administrative District 11 since he was 22, and a later as as selectman, Linton said he’s been in the public eye for most of his life.

“I’ve had fun,” he said, “There have been a lot of things that have come up that always need answers, and for the most part we have found them. Sometimes you have to live with what’s best and look for something better down the road.”

 

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632
[email protected]
Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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