What now, Wiscasset?

Posted:  Friday, September 27, 2013 - 6:30pm

The comments below are my views alone and are not intended to represent either the views of the board of selectmen or any other selectman.

By now most of us should be aware of the results of the vote on September 10. On second thought, most of us are thoroughly consumed by our families and jobs, just trying to get through each day and make ends meet.

As an elected official, I do my best to listen to the concerns of residents and make decisions based on the best interest of our community. The most frequent complaint heard is that taxes keep increasing. What concerns me now is the result of the last election and the significant financial impacts the negative votes on September 10 will have on our taxes.

For example, the negative vote of the Assessor Budget not only means the failure of a monetary budget for the department it also meant the closure of the assessing department as well as the termination of our Assessor’s Agent. Concerns were raised on the salary increase offered to the Assessor’s Agent through the union contract.

However, little consideration was given to the amount of benefits lost as part of the contract which amounted to far more than the increase of ~$7,000 in wages offered. Now the Town not only has closed the assessing office, lost a valued staff member who served the community for over 35 years, we are contractually obligated to pay out a severance package of nearly $70,000.

Our decisions on September 10 did not come without cost.

We voted against the purchase of a new plow truck, to be funded, not from taxes, but from the Reserve Fund, only to be faced with potential repair costs which would come from taxes. We voted against the purchase of an emergency generator, to be funded, not from taxes, but from the Reserve Fund, only to be faced with potential rental costs which would come from taxes. Is there any logic in our decisions?

At this point the termination of our Assessor’s Agent cannot be undone. Her last day was Friday, September 20, dismissed by the voters after 35 years of service. We are legally obligated to pay her severance package, which must be authorized by the voters. If not, we are likely to face legal action and additional legal costs.

Don't know why we voted the way we did, but it appears that we have made things worse. I ask myself, has Wiscasset created its own fiscal cliff? We have obligations we are currently not authorized to pay (e.g. severance package or potential legal costs). We do not have a budget for the Assessing Department. The municipal budget is incomplete; we cannot commit taxes until a completed budget has been approved. In order to keep the rest of the town departments open (Transfer Station, Clerks Office and Registrations, Police, etc.) while the budget issues are resolved and until the tax commitment is set, we will need to operate on borrowed money (a tax anticipation Note). Without taxes we receive no cash to pay the town bills, including the town payroll.

Our choices are: to borrow more money to continue operating, more than likely at higher interest rates; begin to shutdown departments to stretch out what money is available; or complete the budget and return as soon as possible to normal operations.

The least impact to Wiscasset is to complete the budget as soon as possible. To minimize the consequences, an Open Town Meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 8, 7 p.m. at the Wiscasset Middle School. Your participation will have an impact on Wiscasset’s future.

Wiscasset is shaped by the results of the choices and decisions we make. I believe Wiscasset has all the assets necessary to grow and prosper.

Please attend the Open Town Meeting on October 8, 7 p.m. at the Wiscasset Middle School.