Waldoboro voters passed all articles at referendum town meeting June 9 save one – the budget for the office of the town manager.
In elections, voters chose Abden Simmons (398 votes) and Katie Winchenbach (360 votes) for three-year terms on the board of selectmen, beating out former selectman Bob Butler (353 votes) and incumbent Ted Wooster (269 votes).
For the budget committee voters chose Bill Blodgett (502), Ellen Winchenbach (473), and Craig Lewis (351) for three-year terms over Mary Sidelinger (291) and John Higgins (184).
All unopposed incumbents running for three-year terms, Gordon Webster and Jeffrey McNelly were re-elected to the Waldoboro Utility District Board of Trustees and Lynda Letteney and Sandra O’Farrell were re-elected to the Regional School Unit 40 Board of Directors.
Amendments to the town’s shellfish conservation ordinance and a new floodplain management ordinance both passed.
Voters approved all articles for a $4,076,666 municipal budget – and most by a margin of 2 votes to 1 or better – except for the $136,794 proposed budget for the office of the town manager, which failed 424 to 286.
Had the entire proposed budget passed, it would have been an increase of $179,334 or 4.64 percent over the current year.
The request for the office of the town manager was up $5,708 or 4.3 percent over a budget that passed at better than 5 votes to 3 last year, but received only 286 votes in favor this year and 424 votes against.
The selectmen and budget committee were split on recommending the article, 3-2 and 5-3 in favor, respectively.
“I don’t know at this point what we’ll do. I will speak with the board. I do know there’s a number of options,” Town Manager Linda-Jean Briggs said June 10.
“We will continue to operate on an interim basis until such time yet another decision can be made on [the office of the town manager] budget,” Briggs said. A separate article allowing the selectmen to expend up to one quarter of the 2014-2015 appropriation for any failed budget question did pass.
The budget in question affects a total of three employees, and the proposed increase was essentially a 3 percent wage increase and resulting increases to benefit costs, Briggs said.
The majority of departmental increases in the municipal budget are due to similar increases, as well as health insurance and employee retirement costs, Finance Director Eileen Dondlinger said previously.
“It’s unfortunate that the town of Waldoboro is not a cohesive unit and there are factions that are intent on disrupting the workings of the town,” Briggs said.
“The new board will have to meet and elect a chairman … and see how they plan on moving forward” regarding the failed budget, said Selectman Chair Clint Collamore.
Briggs has been the target of criticism from both the general public and a member of the board of selectmen in recent months.
Katie Winchenbach, who was just elected to the board of selectmen, created and submitted a petition to the selectmen earlier this year asking them to “discontinue the services” of Briggs.
Winchenbach said the petition effort began after Briggs initiated certain disciplinary measures against Town Clerk Linda Perry. Perry has since filed suit against the town over a denied appeal related to the discipline.
The petition was reportedly signed by 71 people, but The Lincoln County News‘ Freedom of Access request for the document was denied because it was considered a confidential complaint about an identifiable employee.
“It was our hope they would take this petition in great consideration as they talk about the town manager’s evaluation,” Winchenbach said at the time.
Briggs’ evaluation was on the selectmen’s agenda the night Winchenbach presented the petition and, according to Briggs, the evaluation was started during an executive session but not completed.
Outgoing Selectman Carl Cunningham took shots at Briggs and other selectboard members in a farewell statement he read at the board’s June 9 meeting.
“The town manager has worked for Waldoboro for the past 15 months and still her evaluation hasn’t been done. There are taxpayers in Waldoboro who are having a hard time paying their taxes and the town manager and this board have wasted thousands of taxpayers’ dollars,” Cunningham said.
“I have spent hours on the phone talking with residents about the problems [from the last year] and I told them if we had three votes we could fire the town manager,” Cunningham said.
“If we had the three votes, she would have been gone and we could have saved thousands of dollars and prevented the problems in the front office. The town manager signed a contract, but the majority of the board doesn’t want to hold her accountable for her contract. This is why they do not want to do her evaluation,” he said.
Though not yet complete, the selectmen and Briggs have in fact been working on implementing an evaluation process for Briggs, including during a 30-minute workshop the board held just before the meeting where Cunningham read his statement.
In the workshop, the board came to a consensus on five broad goals (most with associated objectives) for Briggs to focus on and be evaluated against: economic development, including promoting the town and businesses and researching why businesses steer around Waldoboro; communication; fiscal concerns such as updating capital budgets and developing a paving plan; reviewing and updating policies; and working on the comprehensive plan process.
The board adjourned directly after Cunningham read his statement.