Belgrade voters, who for the first time will vote on the entire annual Town Meeting warrant by secret ballot, will be asked to approve funding to create a second full-time firefighter and emergency medical technician position, to be shared with the neighboring town of Rome.

Voters will also decide numerous budget questions in a proposed town budget that officials anticipate could result in the tax rate remaining about what it is now, at $15.38 per $1,000 of property value.

Town Manager Anthony Wilson and Michael Barrett, chairman of the selectmen, both said town officials didn’t think Belgrade would be able to have its traditional open Town Meeting — in which residents debate and vote on issues while gathered together — due to the coronavirus and state guidelines issued by Gov. Janet Mills meant to help prevent its spread. Among those guidelines is a ban on indoor public gatherings of more than 50 people.

So the entire town meeting warrant will be voted upon by secret ballot on Tuesday, July 14. Voting, which town officials are encouraging residents to do before the election by absentee ballot to reduce the number of people at the polls, will take place at the Center for All Seasons from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday.

“We didn’t think there was any way we could have a traditional town meeting and stay within the governor’s decree,” Barrett said. “The best thing about town meeting, normally, is you get a chance to talk things out on the floor and explain things. I hope this is the last time we have to do a written ballot for the town meeting.”

The town hosted online public hearings in which officials sought to explain the warrant articles before residents go to the polls.

One proposal going to voters would add a second full-time firefighter-emergency medical technician position, which Wilson said would allow for coverage 10 hours a day, seven days a week, by an EMT who could respond to medical calls. The cost of the position will be split with the town of Rome, with $25,000 from each town for the job that Wilson said is needed in part due to a decreasing number of volunteer firefighters-EMTs.

“Ours is an aging community and we’re seeing fewer and fewer volunteer firefighters, and fewer of them are willing to undergo the expense to earn an EMT certificate,” Wilson said. “This is an effort to provide better coverage for both communities, and splitting the cost.”

The proposed $3.1 million town budget is up about $13,000 from the current year. But Wilson said that to help avoid a property tax increase, officials this year agreed to fund about $300,000 in expenses from a combination of undesignated and reserve funds.

Wilson said the town’s reserve funds are substantial enough that some can be used next year and still leave a healthy amount in case an emergency arises.

The budget includes about $24,000 to provide a $1 an hour raise to all town employees proposed, in part, due to an increase in the state’s minimum wage.

A nonbudgetary article up for consideration this year is a proposal to change the road commissioner’s position from an elected to an appointed position, after the retirement this year of Maurice Childs, the longtime commissioner.

Wilson said the road commissioner position will still be filled by election this year, but if voters approve changing the position to appointed, the Selectboard will appoint someone to the role next year.

One article would raise the fees charged to be buried in cemeteries in town, from $50 a plot to $200, for residents. Wilson said while that is a big increase, the town’s current rate structure is far below that charged in other communities, and doesn’t cover the cost of perpetual care.

Another article would allow the town to seek reimbursement for the cost of the fire and rescue department responding to accidents, if the person or company involved in the accident is not a taxpayer in town.

Wilson said when a tractor trailer carrying a load of fuel was involved in a fiery crash last year the town was partially reimbursed $9,000 by the trucking company’s insurance. If the proposed ordinance had been on the books then, the town could have gotten $36,000 in reimbursement. Property taxpayers would not be charged because they already pay for the cost of fire and rescue, with their taxes.

Voters will be asked to approve $23,000 to convert the town’s streetlights to more-efficient LEDs, which Wilson said would save about 86% of the town’s electrical costs for the lights and produce enough savings to pay for the conversion in about two-and-a-half years.

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