WEST GARDINER — Nearly four months after West Gardiner’s Town Meeting was to have happened, residents will decide the town’s proposed budget in a new way July 14.

Rather than an open Town Meeting, West Gardiner residents will vote by secret ballot on a scaled-back $1.2 million version of the spending plan proposal that appeared in West Gardiner’s annual Town Report.

As it now stands, selectmen are seeking an appropriation from property tax payers of $386,986 for 2020 that is 3.3% less than the $400,230 appropriation approved for 2020.

That would pay for a range of costs, including expenses for the Town Office, insurance, maintenance for town monuments, cemeteries and soldiers’ graves and its commitment to the Kennebec Valley Humane Society.

It would also pay for a range of costs at the West Gardiner Fire Department, including designating funds for the fire truck repair account and equipment for fighters. And it would include the annual debt payments on the fire station and town garage, and payments for organizations the town supports, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley, the Gardiner Public Library and Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed.

In addition, they propose using $826,700 in excise tax revenue to cover town salaries; website and fuel costs; the Fire Department budget, communications and Gardiner Ambulance Service; transfer station budget, facilities maintenance; and seasonal road maintenance, paving and debt service on the highway truck.

Initially, selectmen had recommended proposed municipal spending that was nearly 13% more than what voters approved a year ago, with the bulk of the increased spending to come from the town’s surplus account and excise tax. What is raised from property owners would have increased by only $16,000.

In mid-March, about a week before West Gardiner’s Town Meeting and elections were scheduled to take place, the spread of the coronavirus had been declared a global pandemic, prompting businesses, government activities and school buildings to close, and leading officials to ban public gatherings of more than 10 to slow the spread of the highly contagious virus.

As a consequence of the widespread shutdown, government officials at all levels are concerned about the impacts of decreased tax revenues, particularly when many state residents are underemployed or unemployed.

Emergency action by the Maine Legislature before it ended its session in March paved the way for municipalities with scheduled Town Meetings to delay holding those votes and continue funding town government operations.

West Gardiner traditionally draws more than 100 residents to its Town Meetings. The secret ballot option allows residents to vote by absentee to avoid gatherings.

 

ELECTIONS

In addition to voting on the budget, town residents will choose a new selectman. This year, for the first time in more than three decades, no Hickey will serve on the Board of Selectmen.

Mert Hickey, 84 this year, is not running again.

While he said his favorite part of being a selectman was taking call from town residents and helping them, he does not care for the new technology.

After the election, Hickey said he plans to spend his Thursdays watching television.

“‘Gunsmoke,'” he said, “or ‘Mayberry.'”

Of Christopher McLaughlin and Steven McGee, who are running for the open seat, Hickey said, “They’re both good men.”

McGee is the owner of McGee Construction of West Gardiner, which offers commercial earthwork, excavation, site work, heavy hauling and demolition, among other construction services.

McGee, 61, said he is familiar with municipal operations from the work he has done with a number of communities in central Maine, but he has never run for office.

In March, he said he had been asked to run by West Gardiner’s three selectmen.

“At this time in my life, I feel like I can give back a little bit,” McGee said. “We have a good, common-sense approach to government in how things are run in West Gardiner. If I can maintain that common-sense approach to the government, to the way the town is run, I want to help with that.”

He cited his ability to manage a budget — his company’s budget is larger than the town’s — as a skill he would bring to the post.

“I am a large taxpayer in West Gardiner,” he said, “but I am not running to negate any of that.”

McGee is a 1977 graduate of Gardiner High School. McGee Construction was started a year before that as a trucking operation, hauling agricultural supplies, including grain and fertilizer, for Gardiner Feed and Agway. By 1983, he had added earthwork, and the company has continued to grow to the point it now employs 150.

McGee is married to Deborah McGee and has four children and a stepdaughter.

McLaughlin, who is the fire chief in Topsham, ran for a seat on the Board of Selectmen in 2016, facing off against Randall Macomber, for the seat that Earl McCormick was vacating. Macomber won that race by 28 votes.

Three years ago, McLaughlin, 36, submitted nomination papers because he understood Hickey was not running, but Hickey changed his mind and was reelected.

McLaughlin has served as fire chief in West Gardiner,  and was a full-time firefighter in Augusta before accepting the chief’s job in Topsham.

He has a bachelor’s degree in public management from the University of Maine, and is now halfway through completing a master’s degree in public administration at Purdue University Global.

As a West Gardiner resident, he said he appreciates how it has not changed and would like to see someone elected who can serve for a decade or more to maintain the stability the town currently enjoys.

And now, he said, it is more important than ever to be fiscally conservative.

“We have to make sure what we’re doing is absolutely necessary,” he said.

West Gardiner has fairly experienced and older selectmen, he said in March, but there will come a time when those officials will be replaced by younger candidates, and he wants to make sure a new generation of selectmen understands how West Gardiner works.

McLaughlin, who grew up in West Gardiner, is marries to Crystal, and they have three children.

The Town Meeting and municipal election will coincide with the state primary election, which was moved by executive order of Gov. Janet Mills to July 14.

 


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