It is a point of pride among South Bristol residents that theirs is a smoothly run town with little in the way of drama. The annual town meeting warrant awaiting voters next week largely holds true to form, presenting a slender budget for approval.
As recommended by the South Bristol Select Board and budget committee in January, the proposed municipal budget for fiscal year 2023-2024 totals $992,746.19, an increase of $7,227.19 or 0.7% from the previous year.
South Bristol’s municipal election this year will dramatically reshape the town’s three-person select board as two long-serving incumbents leave the public’s service. Board Chair Chester Rice has decided against running for reelection and board member Ken Lincoln resigned in January with 14 months remaining in his term. Rice has served on the board since 1997. Lincoln was first elected in 1995.
The open portion of annual town meeting convenes at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 14 in the South Bristol School gymnasium.
Among the warrant articles, South Bristol voters will be asked to decide a $2,404,944.51 education budget, an increase of $252,856.92, or 11.09% compared to the current year.
During a Jan. 17 budget meeting, South Bristol School Committee member Bob Emmons said much of the increase is due to the need to satisfy state education requirements. AOS 93 Business Manager Peter Nielsen said the cost of AOS 93’s Compass and Pathways programs went up significantly.
Individual line items seek authorization to expend $1,110,034.63 for regular instruction, up $22,907.63 or 2%; $416,472.25 for special education, up 62,203.63 or 17%; $250 career and technical education, up $50 or 25%; $226,099.02 for student and staff support, up $13,982.48 or 7%; $181,097.21 for school administration, down $6,960.18 or 4%; $146,097.30 for transportation and buses, up $34,974.92 or 3%; $240,627.29 for facilities and maintenance, up $38,570.14 or 20%; $58,766.81 for system administration, up $1,210.33 or 2%; and $25,000 for all other expenses, which was level funded.
The warrant divides the total between a pair of questions, asking the town to raise $1,096,670.35 to meet the state Essential Programs and Services minimum and holding a written ballot vote to raise and appropriate $1,030,639.83 in additional local funds to exceed that minimum.
The state’s minimum is unchanged for 2022. The amount of additional local funds requested is up about 10%, an increase of $95,715.92.
The school budget is filled out with a $136,317 fund balance forward, up $28,682.99 or 27%; $138,787.81 in state subsidy support, which is unchanged from 2022, and $37,500 from a private donation.
Voters will be asked to approve $110,534.69 for adult education budget, agreeing to appropriate $5,371.19 as South Bristol’s local share. All participating towns in the Central Lincoln County Adult Education Program must agree to approve the entire budget, and then appropriate their contribution to that program.
Amid other articles, Article 15 proposes authorizing the select board to appoint the town clerk and treasurer/ tax collector. Currently those positions are elected. Rice said the select board included the article at the recommendation of the town’s auditor, Fred Brewer. Approval would allow the select board flexibility to attract and/or retain qualified staff members.
“Once you get a qualified person in there, you want to keep them,” Rice said. “He’s been recommending that for the last couple years.”
Article 19 would authorize the select board to place a moratorium on future aquaculture leases in the waters of South Bristol and Walpole. The moratorium would be effective for six months and could be extended another six months at the discretion of the select board.
According to Rice, the moratorium is intended to allow town officials to take an inventory of the existing aquaculture leases and figure what if any regulations may be needed going forward.
Four separate warrant articles seeks voter authorization for the select board to tap into the Stratton Earnings and Dividend Account, appropriating $320,000 to reduce the 2023 tax commitment; $96,586 for the Central Lincoln County Ambulance Service, $100,000 for the South Bristol School roof, and $8,000 for Apple devices for graduating South Bristol resident students going on to high school.
In January the select board and budget committee discussed the amount to recommend for Central Lincoln County Ambulance Service at length, finally agreeing to recommend the select board’s figure $96,586 as opposed to the amount requested of $174,989.13, an $88,403.13 or 102.10% increase from 2022.
In January, Rice said he disagreed with the formula for how each of the six founding towns’ contributions are calculated. In 2022 the formula was changed to be based solely on state property tax valuation and locked in for five years unless there is a unanimous vote by the service’s board of trustees.
Prior to the formula change, contributions had been calculated using 50% call volume and 50% valuation since 2011. Citing the high assessed property values in Bristol and South Bristol, Rice said those two towns alone would be assessed about 55% of the total ambulance service’s budget.
CLC Service Chief Nick Bryant said that the interlocal agreement between the six towns signed within the last year is legally binding. The amount is a bill, not a budget request.
“If you fail to pay it in its entirety, you’re electing to terminate ambulance coverage,” Bryant said.
Because the South Bristol Select Board signed a legally binding document, CLC Ambulance would be violating the agreement by continuing to provide service if the budget is not approved, Bryant said.
Bryant said service would not stop immediately. A meeting would likely be called between the organization’s board made of members from all six founding towns. Notice would be posted 30 days in advance, and lawyers would become involved.
“It is not our intent to leave them high and dry,” Bryant said. “We’ll do our best to reach an agreement.”
If an agreement is not reached, Bryant said the remaining five towns would have to call special town meetings to change their assessments, or increase funding halfway through the year.
“If you don’t fund it, it doesn’t run,” he said. “I truly hope South Bristol doesn’t elect to go down that route.”
Article 25 would authorize the board to expend $174,940 for town administration, raising and appropriating $102,310 for town officer salaries, $15,400 for town building and equipment maintenance and transferring $57,200 from surplus for “town expense.”
Should voters approve, surplus funds will also be used to cover $197,312 for health and sanitation, primarily solid waste management.
One of the largest single appropriation articles, Article 27 would authorize the town to expend up to $176,635 for protection, including a $100,000 line item for the South Bristol Fire Department’s maintenance and payroll, funded by an $86,095.18 appropriation and $13,904.82 carry forward.
As proposed the fire department budget includes a pay rate increase for responders from $15 to $20 per hour as well as 16 new self-contained breathing apparatus units, at a cost of $18,128.
Article 28 proposes taking $245,000 from surplus for the winter roads budget and carrying forward $112,607.53 to fund highway maintenance.
Voters will also be asked to appropriate $27,237 in donations this year, among them, $7,500 for the Eldercare Network, $4,000 for the Rutherford Library, $3,240 for the Community Housing Improvement Project, and $1,390 for Senior Spectrum/Agency on Aging.
Residents will be asked to approve appropriate $41,400 for unclassified accounts, including $5,400 for general assistance, $5,000 for recreation, $17,000 cemeteries, $1,500 abatements and $12,500 for FICA and Medicare.
South Bristol’s annual town meeting opens Monday, March 13, with secret ballot voting at the town office at 470 Clarks Cove Road in Walpole, where the polls will be open from 1-7 p.m. Five candidates have declared for four public offices in South Bristol municipal elections.
Two candidates are standing for two available seats on the South Bristol School Committee as incumbents Robert “Bob” Emmons and Normand Saucier both completed their terms and declined to seek reelection Christian Cotz and Jonathan Swall are both on the ballot for three-year terms.
Adam Rice has returned nomination papers for a three-year term on the South Bristol Select Board. Adam Rice, whose father David Rice and uncle Chester Rice both served on the board said he hopes to bring a common sense approach to town government.
“I prefer a simple and sensible approach and I am very cautious about growing government because things are hard to undo,” Adam Rice said. “We have been a successful town for well over 100 years now and I would like to see it continue.”
Formerly a self-employed logger, Rice currently works for the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands in the off-road vehicle office. His professional experience gives him a level of intimate familiarity with Maine Department of Environmental Protection regulations, particularly regarding wetlands and stream crossings which could benefit the town.
Two candidates are contesting the one-year term on the select board created by Lincoln’s resignation in January. South Bristol native Ralph Norwood III filed nomination papers to be on the ballot. Robert Clifford is also running as a declared write-in for the same office.
Retired now, Norwood formerly worked as commercial fisherman and subsequently a lead man and a shipfitter at Bath Iron Works. He is a current member of the South Bristol Planning Board, on which he has served almost 20 years in various stints. In the event he is elected to the select board, Norwood said he would resign from the planning board.
Should he win election, Norwood said he plans to focus on growing the town’s Anne Wilder Stratton fund and he cited the need to provide diversity training to town employees. Such training helped him a great deal in his career, he said.
“The town is growing and we need to get some diversity training and ethics training for all the town employees,” Norwood said. “Employees rotate through, there are new ones coming up and it should be done. I don’t think it’s ever been and it would help a great deal.”
Retired Colby & Gale Inc. President Robert Clifford is mounting a write-in campaign for the one-year term on the select board. Clifford said he was approached by many people after Lincoln’s resignation in January. By the time he completed his due diligence, which included polling his family for their support, the filing deadline had passed, he said.
“I am just trying to give people options and I want to be one of those two options,” Clifford said. “I want to get people out there to vote.”
Clifford said his extensive experience as a business owner, military officer, and community leader, including two terms on the South Bristol School Committee, all contribute to a skill set he is eager to bring to the service of the town. If elected, Clifford said he plans to focus on “maximizing tax dollars and minimizing waste.”
“It is great community to raise children up through the school and also a great community to retire to and we have both,” Clifford said.
For a write-in ballot to be considered valid, the voter must write the candidate’s full name in space provided and check the appropriate box on the ballot.
(Elizabeth Walztoni contributed to this article.)