A modest increase in the budget and changes to the building and development ordinance will be on the table for Whitefield residents to consider during the annual town meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 18 in the Whitefield Elementary School gymnasium.
The Whitefield Select Board and budget committee recommend a 2023-2024 fiscal year budget of $1,890,554, an increase of $265,603 or 16.3% from the current fiscal year.
Along with the municipal budget residents will also consider changes to the building code ordinance and vote on three uncontested elections for town officials, including two new candidates for the select board and the reelection of a RSU 12 Board of Directors candidate.
To reduce the cost to taxpayers, the select board recommends using $813,400 from the general fund, including $300,000 from surplus. If all articles on the warrant are approved as presented, the total 2023-2024 fiscal year municipal budget to be raised by taxes is $1,077,154, an increase of $17,953 or 1.7% from the current fiscal year.
A majority of the proposed budget increase includes funds to repair the Joy’s Pond culvert, the fire department’s budget, funding for the town library, and increases to town employee salaries. Residents will also consider spending the town’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds.
Article 29 asks residents to raise and appropriate a sum to replace Joy’s Pond culvert, located on South Hunts Meadow Road. On the warrant, the select board recommends $150,000.
During the select board meeting Monday, March 13, after the annual town meeting warrant was approved and posted, the select board learned Whitefield was awarded a $146,000 grant from the Maine Department of Transportation to help fund the culvert replacement.
During the same meeting, the board approved a $233,000 bid from St. Laurent and Son Excavation Inc. to replace the Joy’s Pond culvert.
As a result of the grant, the select board members indicated they would propose a lower figure for article 29 at the annual town meeting.
The budget proposal for the Whitefield Fire Department for the 2023-2024 fiscal year is $198,633, an increase of $83,746 or 73%.
Increases in the fire department’s budget are related to increased costs for ambulance services and funding a new position within the department, according to select board member Charlene Donahue.
Last October the select board was informed Delta Ambulance, Whitefield’s emergency medical service provider, would start charging the town for coverage. Delta, a nonprofit organization, was not making enough money from insurance companies to cover the cost for providing EMS services in several towns throughout Maine.
To make up for the lack of compensation Delta is charging $15 per capita to all towns it serves. The assessment is expected to cost Whitefield approximately $37,000, Donahue said.
Also contributing to the proposed increase in the fire department’s budget is funding for a paid position that requires a firefighter at the central fire station for two 12-hour shifts per week. The position was approved during the annual town meeting last year and paid for by American Rescue Plan Act funds. This year, Whitefield taxpayers must foot the bill. The position was created to address a shortfall in volunteers within the department.
“When you do not have volunteers able to spend time, we have to spend money,” Donahue said.
Inflation is also contributing to the proposed increases to the fire department’s budget, according to Donahue.
Article 35 proposes $15,000 for the Whitefield Library, an increase of $13,000 or 650%. According to Donahue, the proposed increase will fund the library’s normal operations, including the librarian’s salary, internet, and utilities. Donahue said the board felt the library was an important part of the town and should be maintained.
Warrant articles also propose spending the remaining $59,094 available to the town from the American Rescue Plan Act. Four warrant articles propose expending the remaining funds on a defibrillator and a new training facility for the fire department, a new parking lot and walkway that complies with the American with Disabilities Act for the Whitefield Library, and a handicap accessible bathroom at King Mills Union Hall.
During the open town meeting residents will also consider proposed changes to multiple sections of the town’s building and development ordinance.
Proposed changes will accommodate changes to state law, allow the select board to issue penalties for failing to comply with the ordinance, and clarify ambiguities, according to Whitefield Planning Board member Glenn Angell.
According to Angell, the proposed changes comply with L.D. 2003, a state law passed by the Legislature last year that requires municipalities to allow accessory dwelling units on the same lots as a single-family home.
The proposed changes classify two accessory dwelling units as a minimal impact development project and further defines accessory dwelling units and short-term rentals.
If approved, changes to the ordinance would give the select board authority to assess a financial penalty on residents that start a project without submitting a notice to build and receiving approval from town officials. According to Angell, residents are constantly building without submitting a notice to build, in a violation of the ordinance.
“It is a huge, huge problem,” Angell said. “I mean huge. It happens all the time.”
Other proposed changes to the ordinance require new owners of medical marijuana cultivation facilities, mineral extraction activities, and solar energy facilities to submit proof to the town of the required licenses, insurances, and operation plans as required by state law, and other provisions within the ordinance.
The annual town meeting will officially begin at 3:45 p.m. Friday, March 17, at the Whitefield Central Fire Station with the election of a moderator, followed by polls opening at 4 p.m. to elect town officials.
All three Whitefield candidates are running in uncontested elections.
Two candidates – Joshua Leard and James Torbert – are running for two select board positions, each carrying a three-year term. Donahue and William “Bill” McKeen are not seeking reelection.
Leard moved to Whitefield from Massachusetts approximately 10 months ago. He recently graduated from the Massachusetts School of Law in December.
“Having a legal background will allow me to look at issues in front of the board from a different light,” Leard said.
A former goat farmer and language teacher, Torbert has lived in Whitefield for the past 40 years. With decades of public service in education and local government, including time as the chair of the Whitefield Planning Board, Torbert said he enjoys being part of the solution for the community and believes it is a public duty to serve.
“You get to solve problems instead of complain about them,” Torbert said. “It provides a sense of purpose which I think is positive. I could take up a hobby but I do not think it provides the same sense of accomplishment or engagement in the community.”
Gretchen Morrow is running unopposed for reelection to a three-year term on the RSU 12 Board of Directors. Morrow was approved by the select board to fill a vacancy that opened approximately one year ago.
Morrow has lived in Whitefield for 13 years and currently works as a physician’s assistant at Togus Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Chelsea. She is the mother of three Whitefield Elementary School students.
“I have had such a great experience it has been a lot of fun serving the community,” Morrow said.
The town did not receive nomination papers for two three-year terms on the planning board.
Residents are allowed to write in candidates for the position, but any write-in candidate must accept the role. For a write-in ballot to count, the voters must write the candidate’s full name in the space provided and check the appropriate box. Failure to complete both actions may invalidate the ballot.
If a vacancy remains on the planning board after the annual town meeting has concluded the select board has authority to appoint someone to the board for the full three-year term, according to Town Clerk Yolanda Violette.
A copy of the warrant and proposed ordinance changes can be found at townofwhitefield.com.