PITTSTON — Budgeting for town administrative expenses and the Gardiner Public Library drew debate and some testy exchanges Saturday as 128 residents turned out to vote at Town Meeting.

Voters questioned spending decisions on giving a raise to Town Clerk Deb Barry, adding $9,000 to spending on administrative expenses, and the need to make the administrative secretary’s position full time.

“Why did administrative costs go up by $9,000? ” Cheryl Peaslee asked.

Treasure Jessica S0ucy said in 2018, the town incurred a number of costs, including for a computer that went down and making new keys for the Town Office caused the account to show a deficit of about $8,500.

“We had a lot of expenses we didn’t have the funds to cover, postage being one of them,” Soucy said.

“Things are padded in there,” Peaslee said. “There’s something under there that town people need to know about.”

But attempts to cut that funding as well as a raise for Barry by bringing amendments to those articles were decisively voted down.

A move by Tim Lawrence to dismiss the article expanding the hours of the administrative secretary prompted a heated exchange between Lawrence and moderator Chris Cooper over the merit of Lawrence’s motion. Beyond that, Lawrence questioned how the warrant article was crafted that funds only nine months of additional salary and benefits.

“You’re basing this on the town budget year,” Lawrence said. “If we ever went to a fiscal budget year (starting July 1) we would have to change the whole thing.”

“This would not start until April,” Selectwoman Jean Ambrose said. “When we come back next year, we’ll come back with a full year. We can’t ask for more money than we are actually going to spend. There’s no talk of going to a fiscal year.”

Even so, Lawrence said he was concerned that the town potentially setting itself up. When prompted to say why by a number of other voters, he did not.

James Lothridge, who serves on the town’s Personnel Committee, said the position has grown and it’s been recognized that it has to be brought up to 35 hours a week.

“If you work someone for 35 hours, you have to pay for their support and retirement,” he said.

The article passed.

Town voters also debated the town’s participation in the Gardiner Public Library. Gardiner has agreements with neighboring communities to allow their residents to use the library and its resources for an annual fee. This year, the library’s board of trustees recommended basing the annual fee solely on population rather than a hybrid formula that also includes circulation, and the Gardiner City Council endorsed that recommendation.

Even with the promise of certainty, not all Pittston residents think the spending is worthwhile.

Alicia Collins, president of the Pittston-Randolph Parent Teacher Group, said she fills out the forms to get her children a library card every year, but they never use it.

“Our students, most of them cannot and do not go there,” Collins said. “We don’t have the funds to pay to get our students there.”

Fred Kimball noted that in past years, Town Meeting voters have been critical of the funding process which requires towns to pay for their residents to use the library. If they choose not to pay, Pittston residents are banned from getting individual cards for three years.

“Today, it’s different,” he said. “We have a process that they have gone through and a process that’s fair to everyone. It might not be the best process, but it’s fair and equitable and we can bank on it.”

Tom Farkas, who serves on the Gardiner Library Association board of directors, said that for every dollar that Pittston pays to use the library, Gardiner pays $12.

“That gives you access to a half a million dollars’ worth of resources,” he said. “The Gardiner Library takes books to this school. Teachers can go to the library and pick up books from collections and bring them back for projects. This is a big deal.”

After nearly an hour of debate, voters supported both the library and the Boys and Girls Club of Kennebec Valley by an overwhelming majority.

In all, voters approved all the proposed spending of $1.3 million, which covers summer and winter road maintenance, the Pittston Fire Department and support of various nonprofit agencies, among other things. About half of that amount, $612,000 will be levied as property tax. The balance will come from excise tax and surplus.

Because the total spending approved will result in a tax commitment that’s larger than the property tax levy limit imposed by state law, voters had to approve increasing the tax levy limit. The tally of the secret ballot vote was 58-9.

Going into the meeting, Pittston’s property tax rate was $14.10 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The municipal budget is only one of three components of the property tax Pittston’s residents will pay. Both the Gardiner-area school district and Kennebec County have yet to complete their budgets. Once they become final and Pittston’s share is known, the 2019 property tax rate will be calculated.

The meeting drew out 128 residents, about 30 more than attended last year.

In Pittston, elections are held the Monday following Town Meeting. Voting will take place from noon to 7 p.m. in the  Town Office at 38 Whitefield Road.

Incumbent Selectman Greg Lumbert and Rodney Hembree III are vying for the a seat on the Board of Selectmen.

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.

 

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


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