The Norridgewock Board of Selectmen discuss matters Monday during the annual Town Meeting at Mill Stream Elementary School. From left are Lindsey Lynch, Matthew Everett, Sara Wilder, James Lyman, Ronald Frederick and Town Manager Richard LaBelle. Taylor Abbott/Morning Sentinel

NORRIDGEWOCK — Voters approved a $2.3 million municipal spending budget Monday night during the annual Town Meeting at Mill Stream Elementary School.

The meeting warrant included 46 articles and $2,318,085 in proposed municipal spending.

Town Manager Richard LaBelle said anticipated revenues have been budgeted at $1,363,635.

Big-ticket items on the warrant included a budget request by the Fire Department, which hired two full-time firefighters after approving the positions during the 2020 Town Meeting. This spending increase was anticipated when the positions were approved last year. Of the department’s $235,797 budget request, about $119,000 is directly attributed to the positions.

“I noted that the impact in fiscal 2021 would likely be in the range of $120,000-$130,000,” LaBelle said, adding this is the first year the town will raise money to pay down two new sewer bonds, which helped support recent facility upgrades. The previous sewer debt was retired in 2020.

With the renegotiated agreement with Waste Management settled in 2019, the town is expecting an increase in revenues — $600,000 in host community fees — to help offset the 2021 tax commitment.

Aside from these items, the town manager said there are no major shifts in the budget request this year. Norridgewock’s municipal budget represents a 3.7% decrease from current spending, although LaBelle said, “We must be prepared for the customary increases generated by the schools and county budgets.”

On Tuesday afternoon, final election results were posted online.

Elected to the Board of Selectmen & Overseer of the Poor were Charlotte Curtis, Matthew Everett, Ronald Frederick, James Lyman and Lindsey Lynch.

Curtis, Frederick and Lyman were also elected as tax assessors.

Elected to the budget committee for a three-year term were Rebecca Ketchum and Tara Desroches. Curtis was elected to a one-year term on the budget committee.

John Ames and Matthew Keister were elected to three-year terms on the Planning Board. Keister was also elected to a one-year term on the Planning Board. LaBelle said that Keister will be offered both and can accept either one. The selectmen will appoint somebody to fill the open position.

Haley Fleming will maintain his seat on the School Administrative District 54 Board of Directors, where he will serve another three-year term.

Jason Dixon was elected to a one-year term on the sewer commission.

Marka Bottesch was elected to a five-year term as a library trustee.

LaBelle said that turnout this year was less than previous years. Two hundred ballots were cast on Tuesday in comparison to 315 in 2020, he said, and there was a slight uptick in absentee ballots.

“We don’t usually carry a high number of absentees for Town Meeting,” LaBelle said. “We had 40, but that was to be expected. A lot of folks that voted absentee wanted to make sure that they were not bothered by the weather, and some folks were driven out by the referendum issue.”

Only one ballot was left blank on the referendum issue. The proposed building and property maintenance ordinance was rejected by voters by a 101-98 vote.

At a recent public hearing on the ordinance, the few community members in attendance spoke out against the ordinance, which would have called for a minimum standard to be set for the conditions and maintenance of the exterior “of all structures and the condition and maintenance of all grounds in the Downtown Area of the Town of Norridgewock, in order to protect the health, safety, general welfare, and economic wellbeing of the Town’s inhabitants, and to prevent nuisances from forming on said properties.”

The downtown area includes parts or all of Bridge Street, Clark Street, Depot Street, Ferry Road, Hotel Street, Main Street, Mechanic Street, Mercer Road, Perkins Street, Skowhegan Road, Stanley Drive, Upper Main Street, Wade Street, Waterville Road and Welch Street.

Two ordinances were also passed by voters on Monday night: a needle exchange ordinance and the amendments to the dog nuisance ordinance.

In a heated discussion on the amended dog nuisance ordinance, community members questioned the rationale behind the changes and whether accommodations could be made for certain people in town who said that their livelihood will be affected with the passing of the ordinance.

The ordinance addresses nuisance dogs and seeks to clean up and update an ordinance that already exists on the topic.

The ordinance says a violation is classified as any dog engaged in “howling, barking, whining, yelping, crying, or other conduct sustained” for an hour or intermittently for three hours.

The ordinance stipulates any person found in violation will be fined $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second and $500 for the third. An investigation takes place before citations and fines are issued.

Lisa Ames of Depot Street pleaded with voters at the meeting to vote it down, saying that her livelihood of 35 years will be impacted.

“This ordinance is too much for us. We can work on things, but we weren’t even aware that this was going to happen, that people were working on the ordinance,” Ames said. “They didn’t involve us in any way, and I feel like it is not fair. A better ordinance can be written, and I don’t know if there’s a way I can ask to be grandfathered if we’re a licensed kennel.”

Monday’s vote was to either approve or reject the ordinance, not to change the item on the warrant.

Lisa Ames’s husband, John Ames, also spoke up, saying that he believes that he is being targeted by the ordinance.

“Under the existing dog barking nuisance thing, we have been targeted, because somebody didn’t like us and used the barking ordinance to harass us,” John Ames said. “Making this (ordinance) more specific is just opening up more ability for targeting.”

LaBelle said that the Ames’ business is licensed under state statutes, which allows a municipality to adopt stricter standards. Being grandfathered in is not applicable.

“(The ordinance) has been on the books for some time,” LaBelle said. “The review was complaint driven, not targeted. There has been widespread concern throughout the community.”

He added that a review and update of the ordinance was needed to “give more formality to the process” including protecting those who have been accused as well as someone who would like to file the complaint.

LaBelle added that the Town Office receives about 20 complaints per month on barking dogs across the town. This does not include complaints that the town’s animal control officer receives, LaBelle said.

“(The complaints) are not all at one address,” LaBelle said. “They’re across the town. There are some that are more common than others.”

LaBelle said that written complaints can be submitted to the town. The animal control officer can also be contacted through Somerset County Dispatch, or residents can call the town office to report a complaint.

Voters supported adopting a needle exchange ordinance based on a recommendation by Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster.

Maine Access Points, a nonprofit organization, provides syringe access services, overdose prevention education and naloxone distribution throughout rural Maine.

Lancaster has previously said that he was concerned about a third-party offering these services in an uncontrolled area. He said he has encouraged municipalities in Somerset County to adopt ordinances where this type of exchange is regulated.

By having this ordinance in place, he said, the town can work with other organizations, including the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office and Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan, to offer such services in a controlled environment.

The town of Skowhegan passed a similar ordinance last summer.

The only business item still pending, LaBelle said, is the fire coverage contract with the town of Mercer. Article 44 in the warrant calls for the town “to enter into an agreement with the Town of Mercer to provide Mercer with fire protection services for a term of no more than three years and on such terms and conditions as the Board of Selectmen deem to be in the best interest of the Town.”

Norridgewock’s fire department responds to about 200 calls a year in Norridgewock and Mercer.

“The only business that is still pending is our contract with Mercer. That is something that the previous Board of Selectmen (worked on) and now we have a new Board. We had discussions with Mercer and we sent them over the new fire contract. That will now become an item of consideration here in the next month or so.” LaBelle said.

The item was passed during Norridgewock’s Town Meeting. Mercer’s Town Meeting is scheduled for April 10.

“Everything went as well as we could have expected,” LaBelle said. “We’re pleased with the voters’ support. It’s been continuous. We’ll see how we proceed throughout the year and hopefully we continue to come in under budget.”

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