LITCHFIELD — Town residents will consider a spending plan that totals more than $2.2 million for the next budget year, which includes a request for a new fire truck at Litchfield’s June 15 Town Meeting and they will choose a candidate to serve on the Board of Selectmen at the June 11 election.

ELECTION

In Litchfield, the Town Meeting actually starts at 8 a.m. Tuesday with the scheduled municipal election. Once that’s complete, the meeting is in recess until the budget portion starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Both the election and the budget vote will take place at the Litchfield Sportsmen’s Club at 2261 Hallowell Road.

Darlene Beaulieu

This year, Darlene Beaulieu, 63, is challenging longtime Selectwoman Rayna Leibowitz for a seat on the Board of Selectmen. 

With a history in municipal finance, Beaulieu said she can use her expertise on the board if elected. She has worked as a finance director and as a treasurer or tax collector for nearly two decades; she’s currently the administrative assistant for the Whitefield Board of Selectmen in Lincoln County.

Beaulieu has never held elective office before. She made an unsuccessful run for the Board of Selectmen in Monmouth when she lived there.

She said her decision to run in Litchfield, like her decision to run in Monmouth, is based on her desire to bring a change to the board, instead of having the same people continue to hold the same positions.

“It’s time for a change,” Beaulieu said. “When you have been on the board for so many years, you become complacent.”

It’s important for members of the Board of Selectmen to remember who elected them, she said.

“I’ve been to a few meetings,” Beaulieu said. “I feel like they are looking down on people and they are not really listening. It’s their way or nothing at all.”

Beaulieu has asked questions at recent meetings she has attended about the code enforcement officer’s contract and about how budget figures were determined, and she has not been satisfied by the answers she received.

Rayna Leibowitz Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

Leibowitz, 72, has served on the board for eight years altogether. In 2016, she was narrowly defeated by Tim Lachappelle in a three-way race, but was re-elected to the board in a special election after voters recalled Lachappelle by more than a 3-1 margin later that year.

Leibowitz said she’s running because she loves her community and wants the best for it. She is the eighth generation of her family to live in Litchfield and is the fourth consecutive generation of her family to serve on the Board of Selectmen.

“For a lot of people, that doesn’t matter,” she said. “But for me, it matters a lot.”

Now retired, Leibowitz worked for Maine state government for 42 years, retiring from the Maine Emergency Management Agency. Before that, she said, she worked on the Public Utilities Commission, adjudicating between utilities and customers, hearing both sides of an issue before making a decision. She said she brings that same standard to her work on the board.

Leibowitz has been involved in a number of projects in town; some are not complete and she wants to see them through. She promoted the formation of Litchfield’s Road Advisory Committee, which annually sets priorities for roadwork, and she found the information to be helpful.

“I am very appreciative of the work they have done,” she said. “I want to see that process continue and I want be a part of the decision-making regarding how Litchfield’s important infrastructure is improved, maintained and meets the needs of everybody without breaking the bank.”

Public space in Litchfield is important to her, and she would like the town’s trail system continue to thrive.

“Economic development is a constant concern,” Leibowitz said.

Litchfield lacks an economic development committee or an economic development coordinator, but she would like to see more promotion of the town’s small businesses and cottage industries.

Beaulieu said if elected she would propose increasing the number of seats on the Board of Selectmen to five. She would also like to see a greater degree of accountability for the the board and more professionalism in the Town Office.

“First of all,” Beaulieu said, ” I would like to be able to make sure they are not spending more money than they should. They should have all their ducks in a row.”

While she has not seen the budget, she said the town could probably cut back on some things, but not the county and school taxes.

“I don’t know what the final total is. There’s nothing to look at on the website,” Beaulieu said. “This is bad communication with the public.”

As administrative assistant for the Whitefield Board of Selectmen, she said she did a lot research before bringing numbers to the board, and she received a lot of compliments for her work.

“I like working for a small town. People seem to come together when you live in a small town,” Beaulieu said.  “People that I have met, I enjoy talking to. Everybody works hard for their dollar, you have to keep that in mind.”

Leibowitz said the current board has three individuals who have taken conservative positions on the budget.

“None of us what to spend any more money than we have to, but there are instances when money has be spent,” she said.  “We try hard not to be penny wise and pound foolish. We have taken money out of the unassigned fund balance to lower the tax rate because we don’t need an unlimited amount of money in that fund. It’s important to use that to keep taxes as low as possible.”

Leibowitz noted that she has posted election signs around Litchfield, and seven of them have been stolen. Four are on private property, and 16 were put in public right of way, but not in a location where they would be subject to removal by the state Department of Transportation or Litchfield’s Public Works Department.

She said she has filed a complaint with the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office; the sheriff’s office confirmed it’s under investigation.

Leibowitz has been married for 54 years to Philip Leobowitz. They have one daughter, who is married and lives out of state.

Beaulieu, a widow, and has a daughter and son and granddaughter.

The polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

 

THE BUDGET

Buying the new fire truck will require votes on three warrant articles — one to move $100,000 from the town’s unassigned fund balance into the fire equipment reserve fund, one to authorize the selectmen to buy the truck for no more than $604,000, and a third to secure a loan to pay for it.

If voters agree, the town will be able to replace a truck that’s been in service for more than two decades.

Town officials say the proposed budget reflects a $30,000 decrease in spending, thanks to the transfer of funds for the fire truck, and a projected $100,000 rise in revenues between an increase in state revenue sharing and what state government reimburses towns for the homestead exemption.

To pay for the proposed spending, $1.1 million will come from a variety of revenue sources, including excise tax collected on vehicles and boats, fees collected for town services, interest, and state revenue sharing. The remaining $1.1 million will come from property tax.

Gary Parker, chairman of the Board of Selectman, said the budget includes regular maintenance and operational costs, and updates on equipment and reflects the need to keep up with state law.

“I’ve got no reason to discuss the budget with you,” Parker said when asked about the spending plan by the Kennebec Journal.

Selectman Mark Russell said while the proposed spending remains about the same, the property tax rate is expected to drop.

“We are doing a revaluation, and that will make it drop dramatically,” Russell said. “I expect it to go down in proportion to how much the reval changes.”

Currently, Litchfield’s property tax rate, which includes assessments that residents pay to Kennebec County and Regional School Unit 4, is $16.15 per $1,000 of assessed value. For the owner of a house valued at $150,000 absent any exemptions, the annual tax bill would be about $2,400.

The revaluation will be completed before the property tax rate for the upcoming budget year will be calculated.


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