Some 97 Whitefield voters met at Whitefield Elementary School for the annual town meeting Saturday, March 17 and passed articles to fund the town’s $1.24 million budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year with minimal discussion on most.
Voters agreed to increase the surplus from the $50,000 in the warrant to $150,000 to reduce taxes. The budget is an increase from the current year’s budget of $1.18 million.
The town will vote on its annual share of the Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit budget in June, as well as the county tax. The town does not have those figures yet.
The town will need those figures, as well as assessments of new construction and other information, before the Whitefield Board of Selectmen can establish the mil rate, according to Administrative Assistant Aaron Miller.
On Friday, March 16, voters elected Jeff Frankel, of Windsor, as moderator for the annual meeting. Frankel has served as moderator for four years. Also Friday, voters cast their ballots for unopposed candidates.
Voters elected incumbent Keith Marple for a two-year term on the RSU 12 Board of Directors with 134 votes to 66 for write-in candidate Malinda Caron.
Selectman Lester Sheaffer Jr. received 182 votes to win re-election for a three-year term. Tara DeLisle received 163 votes for a one-year term on the RSU 12 board. Jim Torbert and Jake Matthews received 182 votes each to return to the planning board for two years. Torbert has been serving as chair.
On Saturday, one warrant article to receive some attention concerned authorizing the selectmen to enter multiple-year contracts for certain services the town needs, such as the plowing contract.
The town will begin a new three-year contract with David Spicer in the 2018-2019 season. Spicer has been the town’s plowing contractor for six years.
“It’s part of doing business,” board of selectmen Chair Tony Marple said. He said the Maine Municipal Association recommends pursuing contracts for multiple years in order to “get a good deal.”
Voters reduced the budget for winter maintenance of town roads from $290,682 to $270,000. The figure includes the cost of the first year of Spicer’s contract, plus funds for sand and salt.
Another article, which residents readily approved, raised the selectmen’s stipends by $200 each. The selectmen had split on the article, 2-2-1, with Marple and Sheaffer opposed.
Voters approved a $20,000 increase for town employees’ salaries and benefits.
The selectmen said their recommended total amount of $153,210 was the result of a survey of other communities, which revealed that Whitefield’s employees receive much lower salaries.
Fire Chief Scott Higgins, who has not sought an increase in the fire department’s budget for several years, explained why he asked the town for an additional $7,347 for the ensuing year, making an $89,347 total.
Higgins said several pieces of equipment need replacing, such as air compressors. After the vote of approval, the meeting applauded the fire department in appreciation for members’ service to the community and area.
Voters approved two other fire department articles: to raise and appropriate $9,000 for its capital outlay, the same amount as the previous year, and to raise and appropriate $53,201 to cover its debt service.
The town meeting approved the $397,375 for road repairs and maintenance, a decrease from the current year’s $435,341.
One meeting-goer complained that her road has not been paved, which could create a problem for emergency vehicles. “Why not our roads?” she said. “The roads are falling apart.”
Selectman Frank Ober said the town paves two roads per year and her road is scheduled to be paved this year.
One resident raised a question about the reduction of funding for general assistance, from $5,000 to $3,250.
Selectman Bill McKeen said that of the $5,000 in the budget, the town only spent $2,070.
Without any discussion, the town meeting approved appropriating $50,000 from surplus toward repairs to the Leonard’s Bridge culvert on South Hunts Meadow Road.
Again this year, the town meeting spent a significant amount of time debating donations requested by charitable organizations.
Voters reduced the proposed total of $9,732 by $1,115, declining a $1,115 request from an organization called Children Center. The selectmen and budget committee had recommended against the request.
Caron, a special education teacher, advocated for donating the amount the center requested. She said that even though the center did not help any Whitefield children this year, residents may need its help next year.
Sheaffer said all of the organizations will aid people in the town whether the town donates or not. That includes the LifeFlight Foundation, which selectmen described as a multimillion-dollar corporation that does not need the town’s donation.
Voters struck language regarding the accessibility of snowmobile trails from another article.
The article concerns the use of funds from snowmobile registrations to maintain snowmobile trails and authorizes the selectmen to enter an agreement with the local snowmobile club for that purpose.
In an amendment to the article, voters agreed to delete the phrase saying the club’s trails “will be open to the public at all times and free of charge.”
The 2017-2018 budget of $29,000 for town office capital outlay saw a reduction because of completion of work on the town office. Instead, an article passed for $8,000 in capital outlay for a generator.
Voters passed one of the articles by written ballot, as the state requires, to allow the town to increase the property tax levy limit established by state law if the municipal budget approved under the other articles results in a tax commitment greater than the limit.
In a final action, the town meeting voted to follow Marple’s recommendation to use $150,000 from surplus to reduce taxes instead of $50,000.
After the meeting adjourned, McKeen gathered a small group of interested citizens who stayed behind to discuss a marijuana survey.
The survey itemizes various commercial operations and the five classes of licenses the town could issue for them, should the town agree to allow such businesses. McKeen said the town does not have the results of the survey yet.
(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article contained four errors, regarding the amount of surplus the town will use to reduce taxes, the last name of a Whitefield Planning Board member, the cost of the first year of David Spicer’s plowing contract, and the selectmen’s recommendation regarding their stipends. The Lincoln County News regrets the errors.)