WEST GARDINER — Spending is expected to remain essentially flat in the budget that’s being proposed to residents when they meet Saturday for the annual Town Meeting.

In all, the Board of Selectmen is proposing to spend $1.98 million on town needs including a proposed extension of a town cemetery, repairs to the transfer station, contributing to the upkeep of dams that affect West Gardiner and support of the expanding Gardiner Ambulance Service. Of that, only about $450,000 is expected to come from property tax.

Greg Couture, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said that to pay for the spending, the town will use excise tax, American Rescue Plan Act funds, surplus and event revenue.

“Overall, the budget increase is just over $42,000,” he said.

While many spending requests remain flat or reflect increases due to inflation, other requests show larger changes. Couture said that’s because in some cases, money is left over from last year’s appropriation and will be carried over to this year so the current year’s request is smaller. In others, requests appear to be larger this year because last year’s budget incorporated money carried over from the year before.

Currently, the property tax rate in West Gardiner is $8.30 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, but it’s not clear yet whether that will change. While the Kennebec County budget has been finalized, the Gardiner-area school district budget is not expected to be complete until June. Couture said the school budget makes up about 78% of West Gardiner property tax bills.


Voters will also be asked to consider two ordinances. One would ban future solar development and limit the existing facilities from expanding. A similar ordinance is being proposed for self-storage facilities that would ban additional facilities from being built and limit expansion of existing ones. Selectmen had offered up ordinances to regulate both of those things, plus medical cannabis cultivation and retail stores, but following a contentious public hearing earlier this month that drew more than 200 people, the cannabis proposals were set aside and the two other ordinances were redrafted as bans, with restrictions on future expansion.

Also on the warrant, as the result of a citizens petition, is a proposal to increase the minimum lot size in West Gardiner to 3 acres. The current minimum is 60,000 square feet with either 200 feet of road frontage or a 200-by-200-foot square somewhere on the property. Couture said the selectmen had declined to put it on the warrant.

A proposal to explore putting a solar array on town-owned property behind the Town Office will be passed over at Town Meeting, Couture said, in light of the proposed ban on adding new commercial solar facilities in town.


Gary Hickey II and Erin Small are challenging incumbent Steven McGee, who is completing his first term on the board, for selectman this year.

Hickey, 39, grew up in West Gardiner. He said he’s running for selectman because he wants to preserve the town’s rural character, and he wants to bring transparency that he feels is lacking to the Town Office.


He said he spent a lot of time with his grandfather, the late Mert Hickey, who had served as a selectman for more than three decades, talking about how to run a small town, and he said he feels like he has learned a lot from him.

“I feel like over the last few years, (running the town) has fallen into a business model and we’re losing some of the core values we have,” Hickey said.

McGee, 64, said he had been asked to run for selectman three times before he committed to doing so three years ago,

“The town of West Gardiner has been really good to me,” McGee said. “I’ve raised a family here, it’s been a great backdrop to build a business and I have gained a lot of knowledge from the municipalities I’ve worked with. I feel like I am an asset to the town, and I enjoy giving back.”

He said West Gardiner has a no-nonsense form of government; he likes being part of it and he’s proud of working to keep the tax rate low.

“We have three like-minded selectmen in there right now,” he said. “We get a lot done.”


Small, 62, said she’s running for selectman because she wants to serve the town she loves, and she has time now that she has retired from being a public health nurse at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I’m really into recycling — I’d love to find more markets for our recyclables,” Small said, noting that the selectmen have worked on that.

Small said she wants to keep the town’s rural character and encourage people to become involved in the town’s Historical Society, which is in the middle of a project to build a museum.

While she regularly attends Town Meetings and most public hearings, she said she doesn’t attend the Board of Selectmen meetings on Thursdays.

“That’s not really a spectator thing,” she said. “They encourage people who have an issue to come visit.”

Hickey said he would like to see more transparency in West Gardiner, particularly on bids in town. He said from time to time he has submitted bids for work around town, but now he sees that work is being done without going out to bid.


“Since Steve got in there, we’re starting to see his equipment showing up,” Hickey said. “He’ll say that he’s donating his time and his equipment. That’s fine if he wants to do it for free, but I think we should still go through the bid process and if he wants to do it for free, he can write ‘free’ on his bid.”

McGee said he’s been fortunate in his business and that has enabled him to give back to the town, including tearing down the old building on the site of the Historical Society’s future building and other jobs dating back to before he was a selectman, when he would do work at cost for the town.

However, at a candidate forum held earlier this month, he said that is changing.

“It’s been misconstrued that I profit from it,” he said. “I’m not going to work for the town. To take away the persona of conflict of interest, I will choose to do no business with the town.”

Small said she’s been aware of McGee’s contributions to the town for decades, and said he doesn’t often talk about them.

“I know that Steve has donated a lot to the town, as have John Canty and Mert Hickey,” she said.

But, she said, she feels the Town Office is not forthcoming on information, and she committed to having meeting minutes posted on the website.

“There’d be a lot less bullshit going around and rumors, if the Town Office would say Steve donated demolition. There’s been other people who have donated (services),” she said. “Some people kind of think a project went out to bid, and Steve is a selectman and opens the bids so of course he gets the job, but it doesn’t work that way. A lot of the discontent wouldn’t happen if the Town Office was forthcoming with information.”

Voting takes place Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon at the West Gardiner Fire Station at 322 Spears Corner Road. The Town Meeting convenes at 1:30 p.m. in the same location.

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