Gardiner elected officials Wednesday decided to cancel their meetings for the balance of the month, including a budget session scheduled for next week.

With the end of the fiscal year approaching, cities and towns across the state are grappling with how to hold public sessions on proposed spending for the next year while under state and federal mandates banning gatherings larger than 10 people to halt the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.

Some towns, with annual Town Meetings in March, were able to delay both the budget votes and elections until later in the year.

In Gardiner, where the fiscal year starts July 1, City Manager Christine Landes recommended delaying the first budget review scheduled for April 15.

“We have plenty of time to work on the budget,” Landes said at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, streamed on Facebook Live.

For now, emergency state legislation allows public meetings to be held using online platforms to keep elected officials and the public physically distant to slow the spread of coronavirus.

But, Landes said, conducting budget meetings via Zoom, an online audio and video conferencing platform, makes having transparency as elected officials make policy decisions on public spending hard. In her memo to the council, Landes said the staff prefers to wait until budget discussions can be held face to face.

“We have two months to work on the budget,” she said. “We’re still in negotiations with the unions, and they have ceased everything anyway for a month.”

Landes had also recommended canceling the second City Council meeting, noting that there’s little that needs the council’s attention, and under the state of emergency, she has the authority to sign liquor license renewals without a public hearing.

In the absence of meetings, District 1 City Councilor Terry Berry said he’d still like to get an update on what city staff is doing in the event that he gets questions from city residents.

“I appreciate Christine’s integrity in sharing what she knows,” Berry said.

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