Flanked by residents filling out ballots, Town Manager Anthony Wilson sanitizes booths as residents finish voting Saturday during the annual Belgrade Town Meeting at Center For All Seasons. The warrant items were voted on by secret ballot instead of by the usual in-person town meeting. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

BELGRADE — Voters approved the proposed $2.9 million budget at the annual Town Meeting, which was held entirely by secret ballot on Saturday at the Center for All Seasons.

Selectman candidate Cory Alexander greets voters Saturday outside the annual Town Meeting at Center For All Seasons in Belgrade. The warrant items were voted on by secret ballot instead of by the usual in-person Town Meeting. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Belgrade Town Manager Anthony Wilson said Sunday that 459 of the town’s 2,869 registered voters participated in the ballot voting, which was held to avoid gatherings during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. He added that there’s typically been more participation in other years, but there have usually been other elections along with what’s included with the Town Meeting.

“We have a lot less items than we had in July when we had our last Town Meeting election,” Wilson said. “That election included our state races as well and turnout is a little higher.”

Elected to the Board of Selectmen were Barbara Allen, who will serve her first three-year term and Ernie Merckens, who was re-elected to his second full-term. Allen collected the most votes, with 285 and Merckens received 284.

Prior to Merckens’s second full-length term, he served a year of an unexpired term, Wilson added.

The approved $2,970,224 budget reflects a 0.9% decrease from 2020, as voters approved all 29 articles included on the warrant. This is down from last year’s warrant, which contained 55 articles.

Wilson said this was done intentionally to make sure voters were not spending an “inordinate amount of time in the polling booth on Election Day.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, officials took careful consideration into what to include and what should be left out of the budget. Wilson said last week that from a revenue standpoint, the financial experience in 2020 was better than expected; part of that is due to the nearly $64,000 more in excise taxes collected; this exceeded expectations.

Hosting Town Meetings in this manner in the future is also being discussed with selectmen, Wilson said in a phone call on Sunday.

“There’s been preliminary discussions and thoughts shared with the Select Board about whether or not we will continue to have Town Meeting or whether we will move to a secret ballot,” Wilson said. “There are pros and cons to each side.”

He added that there is more participation when all of the items are on the budget, but at the same time, there is also no dialogue about the item that is traditionally held at in-person meetings.

The big-ticket items on the warrant included the first full-year of a fire and safety partnership with the town of Rome; included in the budget was funding for a second full-time firefighter for Belgrade. Additionally, $159,070 was allocated to the town’s recreation department; $100,000 for the fire and rescue capital reserve and well contamination remediation funds, and a $20,000 increase for road maintenance to prepare for the anticipated paving in 2022. The road maintenance funding will come from the town’s undesignated fund. The town also decreased the sand and salt budget by the same amount.

Election workers and voters take part Saturday in the annual Town Meeting at Center For All Seasons in Belgrade. The warrant items were voted on by secret ballots instead of by the usual in-person town meeting. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Article 8 includes a proposed moorings ordinance that seeks to prevent commercial houseboats and a proliferation of moorings on the lake shores. There is one mooring allowed for every 50 feet of shoreline. Out of all of the articles, this one was where voters were most divided, with 237 in favor and 197 opposed.

“(Article 8) was by far the closest vote on the warrant of articles,” Wilson said.

Wilson said on Sunday that this ordinance will be monitored closely as its implemented and to see if improvement on the ordinance is needed in the future.

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