Government

Town Meeting Monday May 2: A quick look

New Gloucester’s Annual Town Meeting convenes Monday, May 2, at 7 p.m. at Memorial School, 86 Intervale Road. Voters will consider proposed FY23 operating budgets, capital expenditures and payments into capital reserve accounts, as well as proposed revisions to town ordinances. Check-in begins at 6:30 p.m.

The full May 2 meeting warrant can be reviewed at this link. Informational booklets with explanatory details will be available at the meeting and also at Town Hall on Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (The Town Office will close at 5 p.m. on Monday so that staff can prepare for Town Meeting.)

The budget bottom line. If approved by voters, the proposed comprehensive budget—town, schools and county—is expected to keep the tax rate level and unchanged for the year ahead. Full revenue-sharing from Augusta (not typical), tapping the town’s Undesignated Fund Balance, and modest use of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds help explain that result, along with sharp pencils wielded by Town Manager Christine Landes, the Select Board, the Budget Committee, the CIP Committee, the MSAD 15 board and administrators, and Cumberland County officials.

Municipal budget items. No new staff positions are proposed; no existing positions are eliminated. Hours for the Code Enforcement Officer position and Parks and Recreation Director position would increase from 36 to 40 hours per week. The Library Director and Town Planner positions remain unchanged, at 36 hours per week.

The proposed budget includes funds for three percent wage increases for some town employees, bringing them more nearly in line with prevailing rates. Fire Rescue personnel would also see a bump in compensation, reflecting the challenge of retaining and attracting public safety staff in the current competitive climate.

Also a sign of the times: budgeted increases in fuel, heating, and electricity lines as well as for road salt. As ever, baked-in expenses like debt service for the Public Works building ($320,545 – Article 13) and the Stevens Brook project ($93,345 – Article 13) and health insurance, workers comp, and other benefits for employees ($761,200 – Article 13) are among less-visible significant costs.

Capital items. A replacement ambulance ($250,000 – Article 25) leads the list of capital purchases, along with a new Pak-Mor trailer for the Transfer Station ($160,000 – half from ARPA, half from reserves – Article 27). Unusually, Public Works Director Ted Shane has asked that a proposed new pick-up truck for Public Works ($75,000 – Article 24) not be funded after all. A suitable replacement will be difficult to secure in time, Shane wrote. Instead, he will do his best “to get at least one more year out of the current truck (already 14 years old).”

Some $625,000 in all is being requested to be added to capital reserve accounts across several departments (Articles 17-23). Reserves are set-asides to help fund future needs. This year capital funds are being sought not only for Fire Rescue, Public Works and Transfer Station equipment and vehicles, as usual, but also for improvements and repairs to the Town Hall Complex, for safety at the Transfer Station and for Parks & Recreation facilities.

Paving. Voters at the Special Town Meeting in February approved taking $477,700 from the Undesignated Fund for additional paving/chip seal projects to be done this fiscal year. The intent was to catch up on long-deferred road work. Now, at the May meeting, voters will consider a paving/chip seal budget for FY23 (Article 16).

The Select Board has recommended $347,308 for FY23 paving. The Budget Committee recommended $200,000. Road segments on Gloucester Hill Road, Morse Road, Waterman Drive and the paved portion of Rowe Station Road were on the initial list for attention, but hoped-for work may have to be curtailed due to rising asphalt prices, no matter what amount of funding voters approve.

Town ordinances. In addition to budget items, voters will consider several proposed changes to town ordinances. Among them are comprehensive amendments to New Gloucester’s sign ordinance, intended to bring the town into compliance with current legal precedents. Other new zoning provisions clarify the role of the code enforcement officer in making use determinations and clarify the scope and timing of appeals.

Voters will also consider a new, briefer Fire Rescue ordinance that outlines the structure of the department, appointment and confirmation of the Chief and other personnel and clarifies authority over funds, among other matters. If approved, the ordinance would repeal and replace the current Fire Rescue ordinance dating from 2003, many provisions of which are no longer accurate.

There’s more on the meeting warrant than this brief recap can suggest – and there’s more to town meeting than a succession of votes. Join your New Gloucester neighbors Monday evening to participate.

Joanne Cole

The Ayes have it at the February 28, 2022 Special Town Meeting at Memorial School