SKOWHEGAN — Town Meeting voters Monday night mostly breezed through the proposed $12 million spending budget, pausing only to listen to explanations about why Lake George Regional Park and Crisis and Counseling Centers were not receiving the money they requested.

The problem, residents were told, was that the two community service organizations had not submitted their funding requests by petition, as the other organizations had done, and as is required in Skowhegan.

In the end, Lake George was given $2,000; it had requested $13,600, without a petition for operations. Crisis and Counseling received $500 of the $13,600 it had requested without a petiton.

Other amounts to be appropriated for community service organizations included $120,294 for Skowhegan Free Public Library, $45,000 for Main Street Skowhegan, $24,000 for the Chamber of Commerce and $30,000 for the Chamber’s Skowhegan Area Welcome & Information Center. Hospice Volunteers of Somerset County received $18,000, and the Skowhegan Community Food Cupboard received $15,000.

Skowhegan residents also  approved amending three town ordinances and approving a property purchase, an affordable-housing tax-increment financing plan and a land lease agreement.

The spending package of $12,085,410 is up about $753,000, or 6.6%, over the current budget approved by voters last year. The tax rate going into the meeting stands at $18.20 for every $1,000 of assessed property valuation, Town Manager Christine Almand said, adding there is no way to predict what the new tax rate will be with variables — including four union contracts, homestead exemption, revenue sharing and the state’s new minimum wage law — in place.

Increases in the proposed budget come with a projected 9% hike in wages and benefits, a 10% increase in water rates and a 21% increase in proposed capital reserve accounts, an increase there of more than $280,000.

“The selectmen and Budget Committee would like to further fund our infrastructure — improve how we fund our infrastructure,” Almand said of the proposed increases in capital reserve accounts. “The major increase is an additional $100,000 toward roads and an additional $100,000 for the Fire Department in case some of their infrastructure fails.”

Big-ticket items approved by voters Monday night included $1,946,084 for general government, including the town manager’s office, insurance, code enforcement and economic development; $1,495,627 for the Police Department; and $860,345 for the Fire Department.

Other spending proposals approved Monday night included $479,551 for summer roads, $647,612 for winter roads, $242,000 for public works vehicle maintenance, $474,367 for parks and recreation and $1,735,439 for debt retirement.

Police Chief David Bucknam successfully appealed to the approximately 130 residents in attendance to take the Budget Committee’s recommendation — not the selectmen’s recommendation — on spending $1,167,000 from surplus. Voters agreed, taking $57,000 for police body cameras, Tasers and a utility trailer, along with $75,000 for town bridges, $500,000 toward a new public safety building, $24,000 for the ball field compound and $511,071 to reduce the tax commitment.

Skowhegan voters also adopted the amended parades and processions ordinance; the amended special amusement ordinance, which would allow gratuity tipping for exotic dancers in town; and a proposed obscenity and adult entertainment ordinance.

Residents also authorized the purchase of land at the corner of Main Street for not more than $15,000 to be used as part of a highway plan to widen the intersection with West Front Street and Waterville Road. Fire damaged an apartment house at that corner in February 2017, and the building ultimately was torn down. It had been the site of Locke Tavern, the oldest such business on the south side of Skowhegan.

Voters approved a 10-year lease with Lily Pond Farm for the storage of sludge from the pollution control plant and the adoption of an affordable housing development district — classified as a tax increment financing district — with the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program on Mary Street. One resident questioned the ethics of using Lily Farm because the family of Jeff Hewettt, a town employee, owns the farm.

Municipal and school board elections were being held Tuesday.

Incumbent Selectmen Betty A. Austin and Paul A. York were seeking a return to the Board of Selectmen in municipal voting, both for three-year terms.

George F. White, a political newcomer, is also on the ballot for two open seats.

In a separate election to finish the term on the five-member board left vacant by the death in January of Selectwoman Vanessa York, Dennis P. Willette was the only name on the ballot for a two-year term.

Also Tuesday, elections were being held to fill three seats on the School Administrative District 54 board of directors. Two incumbent school board directors, Jennifer Poirier and Karen Smith, were seeking re-election, challenged on the districtwide ballot by Michael Lambke, Ethan Masterman and Alicia Boulette.

Voters in the six towns of  School Administrative District 54 were heading to the polls Tuesday for a final referendum vote on the proposed $36.7 million school budget for the coming year. The district is made up of six towns — Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield. Polls were scheduled to close at 8 p.m. in each town.

The full school budget figure, at $36,767,926, is up a total of $1,070,339 from the 2018-2019 budget. Of that increase, nearly 88% ($938,748) is a result of rising salaries for the district’s employees. Contracted services, fuel and utility costs, Maine state retirement and unemployment compensation rates account for most of the other increases.

Polls were scheduled to be open in Skowhegan from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Municipal Building on Water Street.

 

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