Whitefield residents will vote on a variety of budget increases, as well as a medical marijuana ordinance and a solar array moratorium, on March 18 and 19.
Residents will elect candidates for the board of selectmen, planning board, and school board by secret ballot from 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday, March 18, at the Whitefield Central Fire Station. Residents will vote on Articles 3-51 at the open town meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 19, at the Whitefield Elementary School gym.
The proposed municipal budget for fiscal year 2022-2023 totals $1,694,951, a $138,253 or 8.881% increase.
To reduce the impact on taxpayers, Article 41 on the town meeting warrant asks voters if they want to use $535,750 from general fund revenue and undesignated fund balance to decrease funds raised through taxes.
As a result, the amount raised by taxes totals $1,159,201, a $84,103 or 7.823% increase.
One of the more significant increases in the budget can be found in Article 21, which asks if the town will raise and appropriate $467,034, a $57,575 or 14.061% increase, for maintenance and repair of town roads.
Paving, the largest line on the road budget, is up $16,665, from $262,232 to $278,897 for 2022-2023. Additionally, the line for gravel road reconstruction saw the most significant increase from $7,500 to $50,000.
The increase for gravel roads is so drastic because the roads committee plans to reconstruct, rather than repair, the town’s gravel roads. Reconstruction is more costly than superficial repair, as it demands about 15 inches of new material with geotechnical fabric underneath it, but according to the committee, it will result in cost savings for the town and vehicle owners in the long term.
Article 19 asks if the town will raise and appropriate $114,887, an increase of $17,324 or 17.76%, for the operation of the Whitefield Fire Department. The increase is mostly accounted for with increases in stipends and equipment maintenance costs.
In a budget meeting on Jan. 11, Chief Jesse Barton told the select board that while the fire department currently operates with 14 volunteer members, it should have something closer to 24 members. As such, the chief tried to make room in the budget to stipend and train new volunteers.
The chief’s stipend also sees an increase from a $5,569.40 stipend to a $10,000 salary. With the way that the department’s stipend works on a per-call basis, the more firefighters that respond to a scene, the lower the individual payout is to each volunteer. Moving to a flat salary from a per-call payout for the chief effectively leaves more per-call funds for the volunteers.
The budget proposes $10,000 as it is half of the Pittston fire chief’s salary.
Additionally, Article 14 asks if the town will raise and appropriate $218,714, a $54,216 or 32.958%, to provide compensation and employee benefits for town employees.
Article 17 asks if the town will raise and appropriate $14,556, an increase of $3,266 or 28.473%, for planning board and code enforcement officer expenses.
Budget committee members split, three in favor and six against, on the addition of $2,500 for stipends in the planning board’s budget. The board of selectmen also split on the stipends, with two members voting against recommending the stipend and three voting in favor of it.
With the new addition, requested to be brought to the town by former planning board member Marianne Marple, each member of the planning board would receive $500 each year.
Budget committee member George Hall said that elected positions like seats on the planning board and school board should be taken on by those who feel a sense of responsibility to their community, not for any sort of compensation.
“I guess I’m a little bit old school because I have served on the planning board and I’ve served on the school board; there wasn’t any compensation and you certainly didn’t expect any compensation and it’s just part of a civic duty and I can’t support it,” Hall said.
The warrant also includes some new significant expenses for capital projects and revenue re-evaluation.
Article 28 asks if the town will raise and appropriate $50,700 for a tax assessment re-evaluation in the first year of a two-year appropriation, Article 29 asks if the town will raise and appropriate $30,000 for the replacement of the Joy’s Pond Culvert on the South Hunts Meadow Road in the first year of a two-year appropriation, and Article 30 asks if the town will raise and appropriate $70,000 for the repair of the sand and salt shed parking lot.
Article 43 asks the town if it will change the position of road commissioner from an elected to appointed official beginning at the March 2023 town meeting.
Articles 44-48 asks the town if it will appropriate the town’s American Rescue Plan Act funds for premium pay for essential town employees, an electronic sign at the fire station and town office, radio equipment for the fire department, and donations to the Whitefield Library and Whitefield Athletic Association.
Article 49 asks if the town will enact an ordinance requiring the licensing of medical marijuana facilities; Article 50 asks if the town will approve the amended building and development ordinance; and Article 51 asks if the town will approve a moratorium on commercial or community solar energy systems.
According to the marijuana ordinance, medical marijuana facilities would be required to follow a similar process to that of junkyards or businesses that serve liquor, with all license applications brought to the board of selectmen.
According to planning board member Glenn Angell, the board proposed the solar moratorium because development applications for solar facilities have been presented to nearly every town in Lincoln County, and board members feel they simply do not know enough and do not have the regulations in place to properly review applications for such facilities.
All of the candidates up for election on the March 18 ballot are running uncontested for three-year terms. Seth Bolduc and Selectman Keith Sanborn are running for two seats on the Board of Selectmen, Planning Board member Glenn Angell is running for reelection to the planning board, and Kathleen Goetzman is running for the RSU 12 School Board.
A copy of the annual town meeting warrant and sample ballot are available at townofwhitefield.com/election-information.