WEST GARDINER — When the votes on spending were all done in the West Gardiner Town Garage at Saturday’s Town Meeting, the 60 town residents had to vote one more time.

Because the $1.27 million in spending proposed for this budget year in this southern Kennebec County town was higher than what voters approved last July, and higher than the cap imposed by state law on the property tax levy limit, voters were asked to approve that after voting for all the spending that got them there.

The reason, Greg Couture, chairman of the West Gardiner Board of Selectmen, said, was not that this year’s budget reflected higher costs because the spending proposed was essentially the same as it was two years ago. Last year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the town’s spending was scaled back between the time the selectmen initially approved the proposed budget in February and when it went before voters in a secret ballot vote in July.

“Last year because (the vote) was done by secret ballot, we dropped some things out that we really felt we needed to bring to Town Meeting,” Couture said. “Without (an open) Town Meeting, it’s hard to have those discussions.

This year, West Gardiner’s annual budget vote was delayed by three weeks as town officials waited for guidance on whether public gatherings would continue to be limited as the coronavirus pandemic continues in Maine. At the end of March, indoor gathering limits were increased and town officials opted to hold both the municipal election and the Town Meeting in the Town Garage.

Saturday’s voting made a couple of changes to what selectmen proposed, including tapping the town’s surplus for $20,000 for an electronic town sign and using surplus funds to pay for $12,000 in repairs to the exterior of the Auxiliary Building, and adding $5,500 to the town highway equipment account to pay for a broken plow.

Town residents also rebuffed a request from the floor to raise from $2,150 to $3,000 what the town gives to Spectrum Generations, which among other services provides Meals on Wheels service to town residents.

These changes aren’t expected to drive changes in what town residents pay in their municipal property tax bills, but it’s too early to say whether the town’s property tax rate of $11.20 per $1,000 of assessed valuation will change, as the bills also include assessments for the Gardiner-area school district and Kennebec County. Those budgets will be decided later this year.

At the request of School Administrative District 11, voters also approved an ordinance change that extends the area around schools in West Gardiner where sex offenders may not live from the 500 feet to 750 feet.

Saturday’s Town Meeting, held on a day when the temperature in town reached into the 70s, drew fewer residents than might generally come. In municipal elections, 77 votes were cast, electing Couture to the Board of Selectmen, Gary Hickey as road commissioner, and Patrick Saucier (three-year term) and Nicole Madore (two-year) to the SAD 11 school board. Sixty people attended the Town Meeting.


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