Edgecomb returns to annual town meeting May 18

Mon, 05/13/2024 - 1:00pm

Edgecomb will hold its first municipal and school budget town meeting in five years on May 18. In 2020, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Janet Mills issued a state of emergency restricting public meetings. Edgecomb and other communities complied with the health precaution by holding a referendum town meeting vote with residents voting on all warrant articles by ballot.

Last year, selectmen decided to continue with the referendum town meeting after the health advisory was lifted. But state law requires a public vote for educational funding, so the school committee held a separate in-person vote. 

This year’s town meeting will be noteworthy for another reason. It’s the first time Edgecomb residents are asked to approve a combined municipal/school budget over $6 million. Both the municipal and school budgets seek double-digit spending increases. In recent years, increases were absorbed with local surplus funds and federal stimulus monies due to the pandemic. Now, those sources have dried up leaving taxpayers to pick up the slack.

The town assessment is up 17.22%. The school assessment is up 21.6%. 

The proposed school budget is $3,098,672 representing an 11% spending increase, but this year the school committee didn’t propose using any surplus funds to offset tax assessment. Last year, the school committee used $150,000 in surplus funds to reduce the tax burden. So next year’s proposed school tax assessment is up over 20% for the second straight year. 

School Committee Chairman Heather Sinclair on March 20 put recent budget increases in perspective by reporting since 2019 school assessment increased by 5%. “That is well below the cost-of-living rate. The last two years were extreme resulting in consecutive 20% assessment increases. We have a stable student population, stable set of expenses and now a predictable mechanism with accounts handling unforeseen expenses. I don’t see 20% increases continuing,” she said. 

Articles 47-66 regard education spending. Selectmen and school committee members disagreed on one article. Article 66 creates a student expense fund. The article would authorize appropriating up to $200,000 from the unassigned fund balance and placing the $200,000 into a reserve account. This would replace a contingency reserve account. The school committee provides a written explanation for its request within the article. “The purpose is to pay for unanticipated student expenditures related to education arising from tuition, transportation, hiring additional staff or related expenses.”

All three selectmen recommend a “no” vote. On April 22, Selectman Mike Smith explained the board’s opposition. “We were challenged by the amount they were asking for,” Smith said. “Justified? Possibly, but it’s such a big number. One of the most troubling lines is the ability to hire staff. It dates back to a conversation we had four years ago. We weren’t comfortable with that back then.”

On May 6, Sinclair responded via email about why the committee proposed the student expense account. “We are obligated by law to pay those costs as soon as identified by IEP (Individualized Education Plan) processes, so we need a mechanism to ensure we can as needed,” she wrote. “The reserve account allows us to plan for each year specifically with additional funds set aside in the reserve account. We used those funds for exactly such an unanticipated event last year, and are seeking to replenish that account for future budgeting purposes.”

The committee also proposed a capital reserve account. Article 65 would appropriate up to $150,000 from the unassigned fund balance and allow the committee to expend funds “as it deems appropriate” for designated purposes during the fiscal year. In the article, committee members explain “The reserve would pay for major and minor capital improvements such as building repair, preventative maintenance, renovations, ground maintenance and improvements, buses and other transportation vehicles, and major purchases such as a boiler.”

Selectmen didn’t mention any objection to the capital reserve account. But there is disagreement about four fire department proposals. No. 18 asks residents to change from a part-time to full-time fire chief. Selectmen also do not recommend No. 19 which raises and appropriates $57,511 for department salaries and the town’s share of taxes. Last year, residents approved $43,175. No. 20 asks residents to vote and appropriate from surplus $17,220 for firefighter training and $1,317 as the employer’s portion of taxes. Last year, residents approved $12,918.

On April 22, selectmen said they recommended a no vote on the full-time fire chief because there were too many unanswered questions about the proposal. “These were not placed in the warrant by the selectmen,” Smith said. “The article’s wording is vague for a reason. It doesn’t stipulate when it starts or how much the pay is. This is a new position, and a tremendous amount of conversation still needs to happen.”

On May 1, Fire Chief Roy Potter responded to an email about the proposed changed. “The full-time chief position is necessary due to the fact we have little to no daytime coverage as well as having time to filter through the proposed OSHA (Occupational Safety Health Administration) changes. We need time to keep up with the administrative duties and have time to complete an endless work list at the fire station,” he wrote.

Article 21 also received selectmen’s non-endorsement. No. 21 reads “to see if the town will vote to raise and appropriate $33,136 for the fire truck reserve fund.” Selectmen proposed $20,000 for that fund. 

“We didn’t agree with increases with their funding levels for (fire) officers’ pay. They proposed a 15% increase. We support 7% which is what the teachers are getting. We also didn’t agree with their increases for hourly training,” Smith said. Proposed fire department salaries: fire chief, $13,110; assistant chief, $3,105; captain,$2,760; lieutenant, $1,380; firefighters, $23,000; custodian, $2,341; clerk, $3,588; and Social Security and Medicare, $4,086.

Potter explained the department’s rationale. “Like all other departments, if we are going to keep trained firefighters and responders we have to pay them. I don’t understand how the select board feels that the fire department salaries should be separate from all other town employees other (than) to be able to support raises for all other town employees, but not the first responders, who drop what they are doing, and put their lives on the line to serve our community,” he wrote.

The fire department is part of municipal public safety. Proposed public safety spending is $366,663 or up 4.73%. Article 17 asks the town to raise and appropriate $121,098 for fire department operations. Last year, residents approved $120,508. 

Highways and Bridges’ proposed budget is up 11.8% to $958,515. Proposed paving is $300,000, up 17.19%. Proposed snow and ice removal is up 15.57% to $379,000. Local road maintenance is up 1.98% to $80,192.

Other budget proposals include Waterfront Committee, $7,241, up 28.36%; building maintenance and repair, $8,000, no change; general assistance, $5,000, up 100%; libraries, $7,400; up 5.71%; Schmid Preserve, $2,900, no change; Midcoast Humane Society, $1,873, no change. 

Residents are asked to more than double general government and town expenses. Last year, residents approved $90,000. This year, proposed spending is $183,500. The additional request is for paying the first of a two-year tax revaluation expected to begin this year. 

Residents are also being asked to raise and appropriate $140,865 for municipal salaries and employee taxes. The proposed municipal salaries are as follows: selectman chairman, $6,500; selectman, $5,250; tax collector, $30,316; deputy tax collector, $3,500; town clerk, $14,500; treasurer, $14,560; registrar of voters, $900; school committee chairman, $1,040; school committee member, $780; planning board chairman, $1,040; planning board, $210; administrative assistant, $16,734; animal control officer, $2,500; custodial, $1,630; Emergency Management Agency coordinator, $1,040; public health officer, $300; town accounting, $5,460; other employees, $4,500; and Medicare and Social Security, $10,365. 

Articles 25 and 26 regard local library funding. Residents are asked to raise and appropriate $2,000 and appropriate $2,900 from cable television franchise fees for Wiscasset Public Library in Article 25. Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library also requested a contribution. Residents are asked to raise and appropriate $500 and appropriate $2,000 from cable franchise fees. 

Article 30 asks residents to raise and appropriate $1,873 for Midcoast Humane Society for the disposition of animals. Article 31 seeks authorization to add boat excise tax collected in the coming year to the Woodend Boat Access account for funding future public water access on either river or Lily Pond.

Article 32 seeks authorization to appropriate $7,241 from the Waterfront Committee fund for the harbor master’s budget. The proposed budget is harbor master, $2,000; assistant, $500; operational expenses, $4,550; town share of Medicare and Social Security, $191.

The town’s share of Boothbay Region Refuse Disposal District’s operation is $176,033. Two warrant articles regard the planning board. Article 39 seeks authorization to raise and appropriate $6,500 for the planning board and ordinance review committee. Residents will also vote on a proposed ordinance change in response to LD 2003. 

The state law enacted in 2022 requires municipalities to take action in creating more affordable housing. The law prohibits municipalities from limiting housing to one unit per lot and allows for less restrictive ordinances to meet state goals. The proposed municipal ordinance does two things. It expands the previous dwelling unit or building on an existing conforming lot without a need for additional acreage provided it meets state codes for habitation, drinking water, wastewater and established setbacks. The proposal also requires an owner’s commitment to rent it for no less than 90 days. “We don’t have an economic or housing director, so this is proof, we, as a town, are advancing the goal or creating more housing, not short-term rentals. Additionally, it means new neighbors are less transient which makes for better neighbors in general. Hopefully keeping our community, a community not a vacation rental,” wrote Planning Board Chairman Rebecca Graham.

Article 41 seeks authorization to allow a form letter instead of a petition for social service requests at the next town meeting. Articles 42-46 seek approval to raise and appropriate funding for social service requests: Spectrum Generations, $1,213; Healthy Kids, $2,000; New Hope for Women, $1,200; Community Resource Council, $2,500; and Midcoast Maine Community Action, $2,000.

On May 17, Edgecomb will hold municipal elections. Smith is not seeking re-election to the board. George Chase and Timothy Harrington are seeking the seat. All other races are uncontested: Graham and Leah Taylor, two planning board seats; Irene Marchenay, school committee; Claudia Coffin, town clerk and treasurer; Rebecca Brewer, tax collector; and Scott Griffin, road commissioner.