NEW GLOUCESTER — All but two of New Gloucester’s 42 warrant items passed at the annual town meeting Monday night.
The meeting gathered approximately 150 residents, which Town Manager Carrie Castonguay said is an average turnout, and lasted about 2½ hours. Scott Cole, interim town manager of Rumford, was appointed as moderator.
Residents approved the proposed $3.6 million budget. Articles 31 and 32 did not pass, as the Selectboard recommended.
Article 31 asked if the town wished to enact an ordinance entitled Town of New Gloucester Property Tax Assistance Ordinance, which would provide a tax-assistance program for people who are 70 or older and whose gross income is $40,000 or less.
Residents would fill out an application and if they are eligible, they would receive a $1,000 credit on their tax bill. The program would be funded using $50,000 of undesignated funds.
However, Castonguay said Monday night that “We are actually asking that this article be voted down so we can bring it back at a later time.”
“We did have the town’s attorney review this, and it does have some issues with it,” she continued. “It does have the wrong statute citation. We would like the opportunity to make sure it’s done right.”
Article 31 was then voted down.
Article 32 asks if the town would raise and appropriate $50,000 from the Undesignated Fund Balance for the ordinance, so it was also voted down, at the Selectboard’s recommendation.
Selectboard chairman Steve Libby said the town’s portion of the $3.6 million budget is increasing by 25.2 percent over last year’s budget.
Since the tax rate also includes county and school-related taxes, New Gloucester estimates that the tax rate will increase by $1.61, or 10.2%, from $15.80 to $17.41.
Some warrant items sparked debate from residents. Article 2, for example, asked if the town would raise about $425,000 for various things, including administration, elections and legal.
Carl Wilcox made a motion to decrease the legal budget of $22,000 by $6,088, which is the amount the town pays to the Maine Municipal Association, in order to reduce “redundancy” between the association and Bernstein Shur, which represents the town.
“We belong to MMA. Part of those membership dues include our insurances as well as the legal fees. We get reduced rates for our workshops and training. It is a free legal service. I always go to MMA first because it is free,” Castonguay said.
Libby continued, “The primary reason for being a member of MMA is not the legal services, it is all of the other services.” Bernstein Shur, he said, costs $275 an hour, so “It doesn’t take long to use up a $6,000 membership, which is already paid for through savings on insurance.”
Steve Hathorne asked, “If our town lawyer Bernstein Shur is the official final answer, then why would we go somewhere else?”
Libby replied, “Because Bernstein Shur is $275 an hour. … It’s a substantial savings … to talk to MMA at no cost.”
Wilcox’s motion failed, and the article passed as written.
Residents also discussed Article 6, which asked if the town would raise about $325,000 for various things, including Parks and Recreation.
The parks and rec budget is $139,000, which is an increase of about $80,000 over last year’s.
Castonguay explained that the increase is due to making the parks and rec director a full-time position, rather than part time, as well as increased programs and services.
Morgan Rocheleau, the part-time parks and rec director, is paid about $24,000 a year for a 24-hour per week part-time position, and the article proposed increasing his salary to about $49,000 for a full-time 40-hour per week position.
Hathorne criticized what he called an “exorbitant expenditure,” saying, “We need to reduce our tax rate, and this is the best place to start.”
Some residents spoke in support of Rocheleau.
Kathleen Potter said, “This guy is working his tail off moving things around all over this community. And we haven’t even gotten to the summer season when he’s going to be working even harder.”
Laura James Sturgis, who has been a resident of the town for 50 years, said, “I fully support the hiring and the utilization of this new parks and rec director full time. We need him because if you don’t keep us seniors busy, you’re going to be in trouble because we’re getting crotchety.”
No motion was made to amend the article, and it passed as written.
Jane Vaughan can be reached at 780-9103 or at email@example.com.
New Gloucester residents vote on warrant articles Monday night.
Scott Cole, interim town manager of Rumford, serves as moderator at New Gloucester’s annual town meeting.