WEST GARDINER — When residents turn out for the annual Town Meeting on April 9, they’ll consider spending requests to pay for a new firetruck, support expanded ambulance service and put up a building for the town’s historical society.

Greg Couture, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the budget won’t drive many changes in the town’s current tax rate of $9.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

“We’re trying to get things done, slow but sure,” Couture said.

The proposed $1.45 million spending plan includes authorization to spend $400,000 for a new firetruck to replace an existing 1979 engine.

For the last five years, town officials have been seeking competitive grant funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a firetruck, and they have money set aside for a match. To date, the applications have been rejected for a variety of reasons. Couture said during one of those years all but one of the grants were awarded to departments in the western United States that had been battling wildfires.

“We’re hoping for a grant, but if we don’t get it we’ll have to bite the bullet and buy one,” he said.

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If that’s the case, he said, the town would use part of its federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to pay for it.

Some budget requests are being driven by current economic conditions, including the price of fuel. This year, the request for the town’s fuel account has more than doubled, to $45,000.

Officials also are requesting $65,100 for the Gardiner Ambulance Service; that’s a $20,100 increase over the last budget. The additional funds would help pay for staffing a fly car in addition to the service’s ambulances to help the ambulance service meet the rising number of calls across its multi-town region. A fly car an emergency response vehicle with advanced life-support capabilities but no transport capability.

The proposed spending plan also includes requests for money to pay for upkeep and maintenance on town facilities, including the Auxiliary Hall, the Town Office, the transfer station and the Cherry Hill Cemetery.

To continue work on the West Gardiner Historical Society building project, the selectmen are asking to raise $80,000 and use $40,000 from surplus funds to level the ground on property the town has already purchased and cleared and have a slab poured and a shell built. The building will house town documents, artifacts and historic items.

And to support the construction of a new facility for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley, selectmen are also asking for authorization to donate $25,000 toward the $10 million project.

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In all, spending would total $1,442,424, but not all of that would come from property taxes; selectmen have applied $971,100 from excise taxes and $48,000 from surplus funds, leaving taxpayers to pay $417,324.

While town officials expect the municipal taxes to be essentially flat this year, it’s too soon to say what the property tax will be. Both the Gardiner-area school district and Kennebec County have yet to complete their budgets.

The annual budget meeting traditionally has been held on the third Saturday in March, but the COVID-19 pandemic has altered that schedule and location since 2020.

This year, the election and Town Meeting return to the West Gardiner Fire Department at 318 Spears Corner Road. In 2021, the event was held in the Town Garage for in-person voting. The delayed Town Meeting in 2020 was held referendum-style in July.

In West Gardiner, the municipal election is held during the morning, and the results are announced at the Town Meeting, which starts at 1:30.

BOARD OF SELECTMEN

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This year, Fredrick Merrill is challenging Randall Macomber, who is seeking his third term as selectman.

Fredrick Merrill Contributed photo

Merrill, 73, said he’s running, because he thinks voters should be given a choice at the ballot box and he doesn’t think the same people should be running the government all the time.

Most recently Merrill, who is retired, has made and sold candy and fudge with his wife and sister at area craft shows and markets for the last 12 years. Before that he was a carpenter, and when his children were young, he operated a day care in his home.

From 1989 to 2005, he served on the Gardiner-area school board, Maine School Administrative District 11. He also ran unsuccessfully for state representative.

He has lived in West Gardiner for more than five decades.

“As our community grows and changes, local government must remember to be all-inclusive,” he said. “For me, this means to include the people who have lived here all their lives and those who are just arriving to make West Gardiner their home.”

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Randall Macomber Contributed photo

Macomber, 63, is president of Macomber Transportation & Truck Service in Gardiner, and said he wants to continue helping the town where he has lived his whole life. He also wants to use the experience he’s gained over the last six years as a selectman for West Gardiner, the only elective office he has sought.

“I would like to see things go pretty much the way they have been going,” he said. ” I have the time to put into it, and I think it’s a good thing to do. I just feel if there’s something I can do to give back, it’s a good thing.”

West Gardiner selectmen make $7,000 a year.

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Two seats are available on the Gardiner-area school board, but only one of the races is contested.

Kate Merrill is challenging Christopher McLaughlin for a two-year term on the board.

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McLaughlin, 38, was appointed to the board in December after Patrick Saucier stepped down from the board because he was moving out of the district.

McLaughlin’s appointment was until the next election, and this contest will determine who serves out the remaining two years of Saucier’s three-year term.

He said he wants to continue on the school board, because he has always enjoyed public service and the school board is one area he had not yet dabbled in. He wanted to learn more about the process and represent the interests of West Gardiner, making sure the district is doing its best for the students while being fiscally responsible.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration and expects to complete a master’s in public administration later this spring.

“I have three kids in the school system, so I have a vested interest,” he said.

He said he has an ability to deal with people, and considers issues with an open mind.

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McLaughlin is currently the chief of the Topsham Fire Department. Before that, he worked as a firefighter for Augusta, and served as chief of the West Gardiner Fire Department for five years.

McLaughlin was narrowly defeated, twice, for a seat on the Board of Selectmen.

Merrill, who is the daughter of Fredrick Merrill, did not immediately respond to a request for an interview.

Matthew Lillibridge is seeking reelection to the Gardiner-area school board. His race is uncontested.

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