WEST GARDINER — Officials in West Gardiner have delayed the annual Town Meeting in 2021 until — they hope — it can take place in person.

Traditionally, the annual vote on the town budget takes place on the third Saturday in March in an open Town Meeting format, but for the second year in a row, the vote is going to be delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Right now, we’re looking at May,” said Greg Couture, chairman of the West Gardiner Board of Selectmen. “If it backs up more than that, we may have to do the same idea as last year and have it as a secret ballot at the school budget election in June. We’ll have to see.”

In central Maine, town meeting season traditionally starts in March, with a second wave of meetings in June. July generally marks the end of budget season. Not long after, town tax assessors commit the assessment roll to the tax collector, who then sends tax bills to property owners.

Because of the pandemic and the state of civil emergency declared a year ago, town officials across Maine have scrambled to figure out how to continue to serve their residents without a specific budget vote to authorize needed spending.

Before calling an early halt to its session in early March, state lawmakers passed emergency legislation allowing municipalities to continue operating under budgets that existed at the time — until new budgets could be approved. That legislation was for 2020 only. At the time, no provision to delay town meetings existed in state law.


Earlier this year, Gov. Janet Mills issued executive orders — effective for up to 30 days after the civil emergency is terminated — that would, among other things, allow municipal officials to continue singing warrants to pay bills outside of public board meetings, and to temporarily extend officials’ spending authority in the event they cannot hold municipal budget votes.

Like other communities that traditionally hold open town meetings, West Gardiner ultimately conducted its budget vote as a referendum, with residents voting on spending by filling out ballots.

West Gardiner’s proposed spending plan for the current year was expected to be finalized at Thursday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, according to Couture.

A year ago, the town’s proposed budget was set in March, but the vote took place in July. Between the two dates, the warrant was pared down to delay some spending decisions that town residents traditionally question and debate during an open Town Meeting.

“It will be a longer number of items,” Couture said, “because I want to put everything on this year.”

Among those budget requests will be the purchase of a new plow truck. Two of the town’s three plow trucks are 21 years old.

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