CHELSEA — A fully write-in election is on tap for town voters this year because the coronavirus pandemic has hampered the normal process of filing nomination papers.

The town election is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, July 14, while the Town Meeting is to begin at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 16. Both will take place at Chelsea Elementary School at 560-566 Togus Road.

The town is looking to fill 13 elected positions, all of which will be selected as write-ins. Those positions include:

• One selectman for the position currently filled by Benjamin Smith.

• Two members of the RSU 12 board of directors, for positions currently held by Alpha Williams Sr. and Mike Lemelin.

• Five seats on the Planning Board.

• Two seats on the Board of Appeals.

• Four seats on the Board of Assessment Review.

• One seat on the Budget Committee.

Town Manager Scott Tilton said the COVID-19 pandemic has hampered candidates’ ability to take out and return nomination papers.

“COVID prevented potential candidates from returning nomination papers by the due date,” Tilton said. “Without getting nominated, potential office holders could not qualify to get on the ballot.”

Chelsea has had problems in the past filling elected positions due to a lack of volunteers.

In 2016, nomination papers were filed for one of 20 open seats.

In 2017, papers were filed for one of 24 open seats. In both cases, the candidates who returned papers were Selectmen Michael Pushard and Benjamin Smith, who were running for re-election.

After voters act on the 49 articles at the open Town Meeting, spending could reach $1,694,366, a 12.9% increase from the $1,500,172 spending plan approved in June 2019.

That number represents the total of every warrant article. It would change if voters side with Budget Committee or Selectboard recommendations for municipal expenditures, which are $1,525,433 and $1,673,716, respectively.

The largest discrepancy between the Selectboard’s and Budget Committee’s recommendations is with proposed spending on summer roads and related debt service.

The warrant allows up to $688,759 in funding for those expenditures, which the Selectboard has recommended in full, funding $558,840 for operations and reconstruction and $129,919 in debt service.

The Budget Committee’s recommendations shear $150,000 from those expenditures, funding $408,840 for operations and reconstruction and $129,919 in debt service.

Rick Danforth, a member of the Budget Committee, said the committee thought Tilton’s original proposal for roads — $733,840 for roads and $129,919 for debt service — was “aggressive,” especially with uncertainties with state revenues.

He said the committee simply rolled the budget line back to what it was last year, instead of cutting specific projects.

“We have never budgeted that amount for road maintenance,” Danforth said. “While I applaud his efforts, this was just not the year to try it.”

Tilton, who is also the town’s road commissioner, said the $733,840 request was made because “we are falling behind and need to invest in our roads.”

The town warrant stipulates a maximum of $35,000 could be allocated to reserve accounts, but the Budget Committee and Selectboard are recommending raising $24,000, which would eliminate reserve funds for the Town Office equipment, fire station reserves and fire equipment reserves.

The town’s recycling program, which would be funded with up to $10,650, could be cut from the budget if voters go with the Selectboard’s recommendation to cut all funding.

The Budget Committee recommends fully funding the program, according to the warrant. Danforth said cutting the program, which allows residents to bring recycling to the Town Office, was viewed by the committee as “a step backwards.”

“It took many many years to get people focused on recycling,” he said, adding the program could be discussed during the Town Meeting. “This is just something we can offer as a town to make it easier for them to recycle.”

The warrant shows $497,840 in municipal revenue that is expected to be collected, a $1,452 increase from last year.

The town could also apply up to $200,000 in state revenue to be used to reduce property taxes. The Selectboard is recommending using $100,000 as the figure for state revenue, according to the warrant.

Tilton said the Selectboard’s budget figure of $200,000 was “too aggressive” given the uncertainty with the state’s economy.

“The Selectboard would prefer to budget really conservatively and add any extra revenues to the fund balance to reduce future budgets,” Tilton said.

Last year, the town collected $879,388 in municipal revenue, which was stimulated by $241,500 in surplus funding being carried forward from the previous fiscal year, according to a draft budget.

That same draft budget shows $180,575 in undesignated fund balance that could be carried into next fiscal year, bringing the total anticipated revenues for the town to $879,415, or $27 more than last year.

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