WEST GARDINER — West Gardiner residents added $56,000 to the town’s $1.75 million budget at Saturday’s annual town meeting and passed four town ordinance amendments.

Around 100 people showed up Saturday afternoon to the West Gardiner Fire Station for the meeting, moderated by John Clark.

The audience heard from officials at the West Gardiner Transfer Station, the town’s Friendly Neighbors Senior Citizens Club and three charities that help West Gardiner residents, who said they needed additional funds from the town for the upcoming year.

“Can we find the money somewhere? Or create a committee to find the money? Whatever it takes before something breaks,” said Bob Weeks, director of the transfer station.

Weeks said an estimate from last year put the cost of the station’s renovations at $100,000.

The town voted to raise an additional $50,000 on top of the Select Board’s recommendation of $194,000 to start putting money toward renovating the station’s equipment that dates to the 1980s. With the additional $50,000, the town will raise $244,000 for the Transfer Station.

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Residents vote by a show of hands Saturday during the annual West Gardiner town meeting at the West Gardiner Fire Station. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Later on, voters added $6,500 to the charitable donations portion of the budget.

Residents heard from four of the volunteer organizations that said since they gave the Select Board their original recommendations, cost of goods, namely food, increased in price.

Voters added an additional $2,000 to be raised for The Friendly Neighbors Senior Citizens Club for a total of $9,000; an additional $1,500 to be raised for Chrysalis Place, a Gardiner-area food pantry, for a total of $5,000; an additional $1,500 for Faith Food Pantry, for a total of $5,000; and $1,500 to Spectrum Generations, which provides meals to older people in town, for a total of $4,000.

“Everything has just blown up,” said a West Gardiner volunteer that helps at Chrysalis Place, about the grocery costs.

The proposed spending plan was at $1.75 million at the start of the meeting, but with the changes, will total closer to $1.8 million to pay for routine town operations, road maintenance and vehicles.

Greg Couture, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said it also includes a requested $30,000 in spending to make repairs to the town transfer station, including fixing one of the walls where construction debris goes that is giving way.

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West Gardiner Fire Chief Mike Gross answers a question on an article about firefighter pay during Saturday’s annual West Gardiner town meeting at the West Gardiner Fire Station. The article, which will pay fire department members for calls and training, passed. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The spending plan also includes a stipend to reimburse the town’s volunteer firefighters for training costs; they are otherwise unpaid.

“Personally, I feel if we are going to pay the chief and officers, the firefighters should get some wage,” said Michael Gross, West Gardiner’s fire chief. “These people are risking their lives and taking time away from their families and we don’t live in an era anymore where people work in town and companies allow them to leave work to go on calls.”

In addition to paying for the Gardiner Ambulance Service, town officials are starting to pay down the town’s share of accumulated uncollected debts.

“We’ve had the service, now we have to pay the bill,” Couture said.

Because town officials have tapped more than $1.1 million in excise tax and other sources to pay for spending, taxpayers will be asked to contribute about $557,000 in property tax.

The current property tax rate is $8.10 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

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Couture said with anticipated increases in both the Kennebec County assessment and the Gardiner-area school district budget, that property taxes are expected to increase. How much that increase will be won’t be known until those other two budgets are finalized.

Selectman Greg Couture answers a question Saturday during the annual West Gardiner town meeting at the West Gardiner Fire Station. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

In non-budgetary matters, voters approved changes to the town’s caregiver retail store licensing ordinance to allow transfers within a family, and to the medical cannabis cultivation facilities Licensing ordinance. In addition, voters accepted a change to the minimum lot size ordinance to bring it into accordance with the state’s accessory dwelling law.

In a change to tradition, residents also voted in favor of changing the town election from Saturday to the first Tuesday after the annual town meeting, effective beginning in April 2025.

In West Gardiner, municipal elections are currently held the morning before the meeting.

Couture said several residents have said that at town meeting, they wanted the selectmen who made the proposed budget to be on hand to answer questions, rather than any newly elected selectman who may not have been in the discussions.

This year, longtime board chairman Couture won reelection with 271 votes, and three town residents challenged him.

Christopher McLaughlin, who serves on the Maine School Administrative District 11 board of directors and has run unsuccessfully for a seat on the Board of Selectman in the past, received 173 votes. Erin Small ran unsuccessfully a year ago and this year, received 46 votes. The third challenger was Deidre Berglund, former Gardiner city clerk, who received 50 votes.

Gary M. Hickey won his election for road commissioner with 441 votes and for the spot on the MSAD 11 school board, write-in candidate Sean Focht won with 129 votes against another write-in candidate, Kate Merrill, who received 63 votes.

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