OAKLAND — Voters approved $5,077,862 million of town spending for the 2019-20 fiscal year, up 6.78 percent from last year.

The Oakland budget passed with only one change — proposed by a town official — from the $5.09 million version recommended by Oakland’s Town Council and Budget and Advisory Committee at the annual Town Meeting Tuesday night.

Finance Director Doug Mather suggested cutting the debt service article by $13,567 to reflect a lower-than-projected bond payment for the $2.6 million fire station that voters approved in November. This allotment, originally proposed at $244,421 handily passed at the reduced value of $230,854. Still, the debt service article saw the biggest increase from last year of all articles on the warrant. A mortgage payment for the new fire station accounted for close to 40 percent of the increase in the overall budget from last year, said Town Manager Gary Bowman.

About 70 residents turned out to vote at the Messalonskee High School Performing Arts Center Tuesday. Phil Curtis moderated.

$2,644,349 for the town will be raised from taxation, though the mil rate has not been finalized because the Kennebec County and Regional School Unit 18 budgets have not been approved yet, according to Mather. Last week, Mather said a small increase in the mil rate “would be a good estimate.” Mather also said he expects a two-percent valuation increase for the coming year. With this increase, every 0.01 mil would raise $53,720 for the town, according to a Feb. 2019 budget summary.

Part of the recently approved budget increases reflect a two percent wage increase for town employees and additional raises for 5 full-time staffers. Bowman said that Oakland has consistently maintained some of the “lowest-paid employees  in central Maine,” and that the municipality “has to keep up with what other (businesses) offer.”

A stack of Oakland town budgets sit on a table Tuesday at the Oakland Town Meeting at the performing art’s center at Messalonskee High School. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

At the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, Bowman announced that the town is hoping to hire a full-time media and special events employee to manage Oakland’s social media pages and website. The individual will receive a $35,000 salary and benefits package that would be split between the Town Office and the Parks and Recreation department budgets. Bowman said he hopes the role would interest a young person in the area.

“We’ve developed a bunch of new events such as Oakfest, … started two new web pages, (and we have) two web pages and Facebook pages,” Bowman said. “To be honest, the work is overwhelming. We’re short-staffed as it is, so we really need the help to keep this stuff going. I’m an old man … I’m not the best at social media.”

No members of the public objected to the idea — or any warrant articles, for that matter.

“You know you’re letting these guys off pretty easy,” joked Curtis after the 12th of 23 articles on the warrant passed with next to no discussion.

The police department received the largest allocation from this year’s budget, at $1,011,866 total, with $771,554 to be raised through taxation. Other major spending items included general government, at $701,412 with $672,762 to be raised through taxation; protection services, which includes dispatch and code enforcement services, at $421,964, with $6,849 in Tax Increment Financing revenue lessening taxpayer burden to $415,115; transfer station and recycling services at $428,528, with $363,028 to be raised through taxation; fire and rescue at $337,450, all of which will be supported by tax dollars; and property maintenance at $276,460, which would also be supported entirely by taxpayers. $164,104 was approved for recreation, with $156,104 to be raised through taxation; and $141,434 was approved for the public library, with $140,834 to be raised through taxation.

The new Oakland fire station project approved by voters in November 2018 to replace the old station will add a bond payment of $244,421 to the Town Meeting warrant, which residents will vote on Tuesday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The town generated $765,655 in general fund revenues this year, which voters agreed to appropriate toward reducing the tax burden. Revenues were up from last year’s $627,849. Townspeople agreed to allocate a total of $205,000 from various non-property-tax revenue sources to help finance a new rescue truck, maintenance truck, public works vehicle, transfer station scale and police cruiser. Bowman said that Oakland’s current rescue truck is 22 years old, that the maintenance truck is “starting to rust,” and that the police cruiser has been “driven hard” and needs replacement.

“We’ve kicked the can down the road over the years … and we need to (do something),” he said about the rescue truck.

Residents also authorized the Town Council to sell or dispose of real estate that the town has acquired by failure of the property owner to pay taxes, with an exception for qualifying homestead properties; authorized the Town Council to accept and appropriately expend donation, gift, reserve and grant funds; and gave the Town Council authority to submit grants for community development if a suitable opportunity arises.

Outside of town departments, residents agreed to provide $5,000 of support to the Oakland Food Bank, $4,700 to the new Snow Pond Seniors organization, $1,500 to the Oakland Flower Project, $1,500 to the Mid Maine Homeless Shelter and $500 each to 10 other organizations. The town will also contribute $22,106 to the Central Maine Growth Council, $13,600 to the multi-town Dams Committee, $9,290 to Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, $6,510 to Maine Municipal Association and $2,700 to the Snowmobile Club. The majority of town funding for these groups will come from TIF revenue.

“The dams have problems. … In order to keep the lake levels at the levels they are, we have to keep the dams going,” Bowman said after explaining a $10,000 increase in the Dams Committee’s request. “(The lakes) are economic generators for the town. We have to keep them going.”

He said he was unsure whether a contribution in the range of $13,000 would be an annual necessity for Oakland.

Chris McPherson, Ed Pearl and Sandy Swartz received Spirit of America awards Tuesday night. Dan Hapgood, was honored with a Commitment to Excellence award, for his leadership as the transfer station manager. He is leaving for Fort Fairfield after 10 years with Oakland.

There will be a district hearing on the RSU 18 budget Thursday, May 16 at the Messalonskee High School Performing Arts Center at 6 p.m.

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