RICHMOND — On Monday, the Richmond Board of Selectmen approved the warrant for Town Meeting, which this year will be conducted as a referendum vote on July 14.

In all, the proposed spending plan totals $1,874,920, about a  16% decrease over the current year’s budget of nearly $2.4 million.

Currently, Richmond’s property tax rate stands at $19.55 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Town Manager Adam Garland said Monday that between the town’s fiscally conservative budget proposal and the expected increase in valuation, the goal of town officials is to keep town spending flat in the upcoming budget year.

Town-elected officials have approved using more funds from Richmond’s tax increment financing districts as allowed to help pay the cost of of a variety of needs, including administration, public safety, public works, and parks and cemeteries.

They also have approved cuts in spending, including for capital outlay — which pays for new equipment or equipment repair — and for the recreation program, to reflect the cancellation of summer events due to concerns over public safety from the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.

At the same time, they are asking for approval to use up to $1oo,ooo in the towns undesignated fund balance to ensure the budget remains flat.

In an open Town Meeting format, voters would be able to debate funding requests, but because the budget will be voted on as a referendum this year, there’s no ability to amend funding levels.

Warrant articles are being presented to voters with the amount the Board of Selectmen is recommending, and whether the town’s Budget Committee recommends approval.

During the joint Board of Selectmen and Budget Committee meeting held last Thursday, the two bodies disagreed on only one item: funding for the Richmond Police Department.

For the last several years, the department has been staffed with four positions — a chief, and three full-time officers. While a majority of selectmen supported the current level of staffing, a majority of the Budget Committee supported scaling staffing back by one position.

Since November, when former Chief Scott MacMaster was on leave, the department operated with three officers. When MacMaster resigned to accept the chief’s position in Hallowell, the department had three officers.

Since then, Christopher Giles accepted a position with a police department in southern Maine, leaving only two officers on staff, Chief James Donnell and Officer Doug Bellevue.

In suggesting cutting one officer from the proposed budget, Budget Committee member Ralph Drew Jr. said the town is also covered by the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office.

“From midnight to about 6 or 7 in the morning, there’s only one deputy from the county,” O’Neil LaPlante, chairperson of the Richmond Board of Selectmen, said.

“But it’s been that way for months,” Drew said.

Cutting an officer’s position means 40 hours less coverage during the week, Garland said.

“You all said you didn’t want to operate under (the existing) budget, so if the budget fails to pass, we’ll cease operations until a special town meeting is held to vote on the budget again.”

A public hearing on the proposed budget is expected to be held in June, during which Richmond residents will be able to speak on the budget proposal.

Garland said he’s also planning a Facebook Live broadcast in June during which he’ll talk both about the budget and about how a referendum vote on the town budget will work.

At the end of April, the Board of Selectmen agreed to change the format of this year’s Town Meeting because of strict limits on public gatherings, opting to hold a referendum vote instead of an open Town Meeting.

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