Newcastle will hold its annual town meeting by secret ballot July 14, to coincide with the state primary.
The Newcastle Board of Selectmen approved the warrant for annual town meeting Tuesday, May 26.
The polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the community room at the Newcastle fire station. However, the selectmen urged residents to use absentee ballots if possible.
Newly minted Town Manager Jon Duke suggested holding a public hearing on the warrant June 14. The selectmen did not make a decision on the date or method of the hearing.
The selectmen approved Duke’s contract as town manager after an executive session during their meeting by Zoom videoconference.
Duke said he constructed the warrant to be as concise as possible because of public health concerns surrounding the coronavirus emergency.
“We want to get people in and out. … Public health is the main concern,” said Ben Frey, chair of the board of selectmen.
The warrant includes 13 articles. Article 6 asks voters to approve the entire municipal budget of $2,240,286.12, an increase of $192,996.52 or 9.43%.
The warrant will also ask voters to approve Newcastle’s share of the budget for the Great Salt Bay Consolidated School District and the town’s secondary school budget.
The selectmen approved Newcastle’s total budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 at the May 26 meeting, which includes municipal and education expenses, as well as the county tax.
Expenses total $5,936,385.71, an increase of $311,409.39 or 5.54% from fiscal year 2019-2020.
Education expenses total $3,278,762.50, an increase of $88,197.78 or 2.76%. The county tax is $417,337.09, an increase of $30,215.09 or 7.81%.
According to Duke, an increase in non-property-tax revenue will offset most of the increase in expenses. He expects the property tax rate to hold at $17.90 per $1,000 of valuation, meeting the selectmen’s primary goal for the budget process.
“I expect we’re going to have some valuation increase, which will offset that increase. It should allow us to maintain a stable mil rate for the fifth year in a row,” Duke said Tuesday.
Duke said the only residents who would likely see an increase in property taxes this year are those who have had improvements or additions made to their property in the last year.
Article 7 combines 10 questions put to voters every year to give the board of selectmen various authorities to accept gifts and donations, execute quitclaim deeds and sell real estate, enter into multiple-year contracts on behalf of the town, and perform other duties.
Article 7 also includes language authorizing the selectmen to use surplus funds to reduce the tax burden.
Selectman Wanda Wilcox expressed concern that voters would not have enough information at the ballot box to make informed decisions.
“I feel like people have the right to know what they’re spending $2.2 million on,” Wilcox said.
The selectmen agreed to send the town report, the warrant, and an informational postcard with answers to common questions to every address in Newcastle.
The selectmen approved the warrant 4-1, with Wilcox dissenting.