Catelyn Nichols casts her ballot for the New Sharon Town Meeting referendum while Melissa LeTarte, the deputy town clerk and Town Meeting moderator oversees at the New Sharon Town Office Saturday, March 5. The 2022 New Sharon town meeting was held by secret ballot referendum due to the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. Multiple articles were a close call because a number of townspeople rejected all articles on the warrant as they were upset with the meeting format, wanted an in person meeting. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

NEW SHARON — New Sharon voters approved the town’s $1.18 million municipal budget for 2022-23 at the annual Town Meeting, held by referendum vote Saturday, March 5.

A total 189 ballots were cast at the Town Meeting referendum, which Town Clerk Pamela Adams said was a greater turnout than in recent years.

Voters approved 23 warrant items and rejected two.

Rejected articles involve increases to the property tax levy limit and power to “dispose of town owned personal property … as (Selectmen) deem advisable.”

Two officials were also elected: Incumbent Selectperson Paula Nason and incumbent Water District Trustee Chair David Dill.

Voters approved all articles regarding the municipal budget, which is to cost taxpayers up to $1.068 million, a $9,909 decrease from what was raised for 2021-22, due to implementation of money from the undesignated fund balance.

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Board of Selectmen Chair Lorna Nichols and Treasurer Erin Norton said a majority of the larger increases in budget items were due to rising costs and inflation.

While the budget items were approved, it was a close vote for a number of articles — budgetary and beyond. Article 9 for administrative expenses passed 97-87, with five blanks.

Another article to “authorize Selectmen on behalf of the town to negotiate temporary loans” passed by just one vote — 93-92.

Adams said “there is not usually such a close call on the vote.”

The close call is likely due to a movement in town to reject all articles on the warrant. The “Vote No” movement came from townspeople upset with the select board’s choice to conduct the Town Meeting by referendum vote rather than an in-person vote.

At the polls, many voters said they were rejecting the whole warrant in order to foster the need for a special town meeting, where residents could discuss and amend articles in person. Other voters said they were rejecting more than a handful of the articles, but not all, for similar reasons.

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Residents said they felt a referendum vote hindered their voices and gave too much power to the select board.

The select board chose to hold the 2022 Town Meeting by referendum due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Town Meeting is normally held at Regional School Unit 9’s Cape Cod Hill School, which had a mask mandate that was only just lifted at the RSU 9 Board of Director’s Tuesday, March 8, meeting.

Selectperson Travis Pond told the Franklin Journal that the Maine Municipal Association (MMA) has said it is unconstitutional to require individuals wear masks in order to vote, which is why they opted to hold the meeting by referendum vote.

According to Kate Dufour, MMA director of state and federal relations, it’s not that asking someone to wear a mask is unconstitutional, but that the MMA’s “concern is denying someone the right to cast a vote” if they refuse to mask.

Pond said the board was informed recently by Cape Cod Hill School officials that the school could host the meeting without masking requirements. But because absentee ballots had already been sent out and a number turned in, the board could not reverse the decision and hold an in-person meeting.

Article 18 to “authorize the Selectmen to dispose of town owned personal property, under such terms and conditions as they deem advisable” was rejected by voters at 106 no, 76 yes and five blank ballots.

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Days leading up to the vote, historical committee member Darlene Power raised concerns the select board was planning to dispose of historic town artifacts.

Power’s evidence for this suspicion came from how the board handled use of the New Sharon Shay (a carriage-sleigh hybrid) now in the possession of the Franklin County Agricultural Society at the Farmington Fairgrounds.

Power said the Shay was improperly handled and could indicate how the select board, specifically Nichols, plans to dispose of other historic town artifacts.

Power did not offer further evidence for this concern.

At the New Sharon Board of Selectmen’s meeting last Wednesday, selectpersons passed a motion that bars the board from “(disposing) of any town-owned personal property until after the next annual or special town meeting where (Article 18) can be further defined by the legislative body.”

Pond additionally raised a motion to hold a special town meeting in order to reacquire possession of the Shay. The motion was tabled while Power and the historical committee discuss the idea.

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Still, Power and other residents felt it was important that the warrant be discussed in person with dialogue between townspeople and the select board.

Power promoted the “Vote No” movement by protesting with historical committee member Deborah Rose down the road from the New Sharon Town Office on Friday and Saturday. Power was also encouraging voters to write in her name for the open select board seat. She received 34 write-in votes.

Power and Rose protested in duck and bulldog costumes, respectively, to signify that there are “sitting ducks” on the select board and that they are serving as the town’s “watchdogs.”

Article 3 to “permanently increase the property tax levy limit of $691,522 established for the Town of New Sharon by state law in the event that the municipal budget, approved under the following articles, will result in a tax commitment that exceed the property tax levy limit” was also rejected.

Other non-budgetary items passed by voters include authorization to spend the town’s $149,437 in American Rescue Plan Act funds and an amendment to the Fire Department Ordinance that lowers the minimum age of junior firefighters from 18 to 16 years old.

The warrant lists the projects, spending items that will be funded by ARPA to include one year of Zoom fees for remote meeting access, a water pressure pump for the town office and fire station, a generator for the town office, heat pumps for the Jim Ditzler Library and display cases for “the preservation and protection” of historic town items.

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The article gives the town authorization to spend the whole ARPA grant. Nichols said the listed projects will likely use up a majority of the funds.

It is not clear for now how the board will move forward with the rejection of articles 3 and 18. After multiple requests, the Franklin Journal was unable to reach Nichols for comment on this matter by the time of publication.

Other spending approved by voters includes:

• $531,443 for the Public Works Department.

• $277,570 for administrative and operating expenses, such as salaries for town officials and officers, the Parks and Recreation Department, cemetery mowing and more.

• $131,335 for public safety operations.

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• $114,000 for solid waste disposal and curbside pickup.

• $34,694 for operation of the Jim Ditzler Memorial Library (a 10.5% increase of $3,297 from the 2021-22 budget).

• $21,500 for insurance and workers’ compensation (a 13.15% increase of $2,500 from the 2021-22 budget).

• $11,500 for the town’s share of Social Security (a 9.52% increase of $1,000 from 2021-22).


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