PITTSTON — When Town Meeting moderator Chris Cooper took up his gavel Saturday morning, he acknowledged the historic nature of the 2020 Pittston Town Meeting.

“It’s an unusual venue, unusual circumstances and a sparsely attended meeting,” Cooper said, as he stood at the podium under the roof of the Pulling Ring at the Pittston Fairgrounds.

Because of the global coronavirus pandemic declared in March, the town’s annual budget vote was scheduled for Saturday after being postponed from its traditional March date. And because of ongoing concern about the spread of the highly contagious virus, the meeting was held outdoors.

The meeting took on an added dimension of unusual when, after the the first budget article was approved, Ann Pistell stepped up to microphone and made a simple request.

Ann Pistell makes a motion Saturday to combine and pass all the remaining articles at once during the Pittston Town Meeting in the pulling ring at the Pittston Fairgrounds. The motion passed and the meeting quickly ended. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“The last two years, a lot of people have come to Town Meeting and passed every article as written,” Pistell said. “There’s been discussion, but they’ve passed it. Due to these times, could it be possible to move all the articles together and vote on them?”

The request was greeted with applause and laughter from among the 56 voters assembled.

“I like you,” Cooper said.

It’s not unusual for a resident to request grouping several articles together if they aren’t controversial or expected to draw much debate, particularly if a Town Meeting is running long in the view of those attending.

Cooper cautioned that one article, the funding request from the Gardiner Public Library, had been reduced by a vote of the Gardiner City Council since Pittston’s warrant was first approved in March.

To smooth the way Anne Davis, director of the Gardiner Public Library, said Saturday voters could approve the article on the library funding as written, but she would send a bill for the lower amount.

After reviewing the rule around making such a motion and the required threshhold of votes — two-thirds of the voters present — Pistell made the motion to take the articles out of order, which passed, and the motion to approve the articles all together, which also passed.

Residents vote on approving all the last remaining warrant articles into one item Saturday during the Pittston Town Meeting in the pulling ring at the Pittston Fairgrounds. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

In those two moves, voters approved the town’s $1.43 million spending plan, paying for the costs of running the town, including paying its employees and the costs of running the Town Office, the care and upkeep of town properties, taking care of its roads and supporting the Fire Department and nonprofit agencies including the Spectrum Generations, area food pantries and the Kennebec Valley Humane Society.

After the meeting, Pistell said she made the request because her husband, who attended Town Meeting with her, had had surgery the week before, and she needed to get him home.

“Besides that, these are unusual times,” Pistell said. “We have passed every article for the last few years, after hours of debate, so why not take a chance?”

Currently, Pittston’s property tax rate is $14.70 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. As it now stands, a resident with a property valued for taxation at  $170,000 without any exemptions, would pay $2,499 in property tax annually.

The 2020 property tax rate will be determined later this summer, after Tuesday’s vote on the Gardiner-area school district budget, which is scheduled to take place at the same time as the statewide primary.

Last month, Jessica Soucy, Pittston’s tax collector and treasurer, resigned.

Jean Ambrose, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said the town expects to hire someone to fill the vacancy by the end of the month. In the meantime, Town Clerk Deb Barry is serving as acting tax collector and treasurer.

Pittston was among the towns whose annual budget votes were thrown into doubt after the March pandemic declaration. In the weeks that followed, executive orders and public health directives imposed progressively more restrictive bans on public gatherings, allowing no more than 10 people to assemble in a room.

At the same time, no provision existed in state law at that time to postpone an annual Town Meeting. But in the last days of its truncated session, the Maine State Legislature enacted emergency legislation giving towns flexibility to continue operating in the absence of an annual budget vote.

The state’s June primary was postponed by a month under an executive order of Gov. Janet Mills, and will take place Tuesday. Ordinarily, Pittston’s municipal election takes place on the Monday following the Town Meeting; this year, it will be held in conjunction with the primary.

Two candidates, Fred Kimball and Greg Lumbert, are running for the open seat on the Board of Selectmen. Ronald Smith is challenging incumbent Sam Snow to be road commissioner, and Theresa Guerrette is challenging Linda Caputo for a seat on the School Administrative District 11 board.

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