Residents vote in favor of an article on the town warrant Tuesday during Oakland’s annual town meeting. Voters also approved the town’s proposed $8.03 million budget. Dylan Tusinski/Morning Sentinel

OAKLAND — Voters in Oakland approved all 24 warrant articles and the proposed $8.03 million budget at Tuesday’s annual town meeting.

The meeting at the Messalonskee Performing Arts Center began at 6 p.m. and ran two hours. It drew about 125 residents.

The budget calls for town property owners to pay $3.3 million of the spending plan, after accounting for other town revenue, fund transfers and reserve funds. The amount to be collected through property taxes increased by $277,256 — or 8.36% — from what voters approved last year.

Town Manager Kelly Pinney-Michaud said a recent increase in Oakland’s property values has decreased the amount of state funding and grants the town can receive to offset the cost for taxpayers.

“The biggest impact to our overall budget and the biggest cause of it is that our state valuations have increased,” she said.

Next year’s property tax rate — or mill rate — remains uncertain because the Kennebec County and Regional School Unit 18 budgets have yet to be finalized.

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The current property tax rate is $14.40 per $1,000 in assessed valuation. Pinney-Michaud estimated last week the rate could increase by about $1.04 per $1,000, which would result in a mill rate of $15.44.

“I’m in the process of redeveloping some long-range planning goals for Oakland, as well as some short-range immediate needs,” she said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Last year, voters approved a $7.4 million budget that represented a 9.1% increase from the previous year.

One of the largest increases in the new spending plan is the Police Department budget, which jumped by 11.4%. Taxpayers will pay $960,218 of the department’s $1.56 million budget. The increase comes as officials seek to lease or buy five public safety vehicles, including three police cruisers; three police shields; and 11 rifles, along with suppressors.

Several residents spoke in opposition to the purchases, including scrutinizing the rifles and questioning if Oakland police use rifles enough to warrant the purchase. Resident Kelly Roderick, a member of the town’s Budget Advisory Committee, said the committee did not have enough time to properly review the requested items.

“I think it’s excessive to purchase three police cruisers all at once that are going to be replaced all at the same time,” Roderick said. “This was brought to us very late, without review in the budget process.”

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Pinney-Michaud said the purchases are necessary in the event of a mass shooting, like the one in Lewiston on Oct. 25, 2023. Oakland police Lt. Chris Cowan said most of the town’s 11 officers undergo training once a year, which is where the rifles are used most. He added that the department plans to increase training in the coming years.

“These rifles are used a lot, just like our pistols. Our guys have to train throughout the year,” Cowan said. “We will be at the range, and we will be shooting more.”

Oakland is also facing a $63,000 increase in fees to Delta Ambulance, the town’s sole emergency medical services provider, which is raising its rates next year for communities that utilize its services. Oakland was one of five communities that signed an agreement seeking to renegotiate a lower rate. The communities were unsuccessful in their effort.

Some residents also questioned the roughly $37,000 in tax revenue that is to be divided between five local conservation organizations, saying the groups should support themselves. One resident put forward a motion to cut the $5,000 in funding for the 7 Lakes Alliance by $315. The motion was defeated, and voters approved the funding for the organizations.

The budget also includes a 5.5% increase for insurances, $197,000 for a final payment on a fire truck and a 3% cost-of-living increase for town employees.

The Oakland Public Library’s budget decreased from about $255,000 in this year’s budget to $245,000 in the budget approved this week, while the amount to be raised by taxes increased from $153,172 to $178,348.

Tax bills will also reflect Kennebec County’s proposed budget increase of more than 40% and Regional School Unit 18’s roughly $44 million budget, a 3.4% increase from this year. RSU 18 includes eight schools in Oakland, Belgrade, China, Rome and Sidney.

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