Opinion Spotlight

What’s on the town meeting warrant?

| Letter to the editor from Peter Bragdon |

I want to make the disclaimer that the statements that follow are mine solely and do not represent the views of the select board.

I encourage the public to get involved and learn about the ”town meeting” warrant this Monday night, April 26, at 7pm.  The vote on June 8th will lead to a 29% increase that will be offset by $500k from the Undesignated Fund Balance, bringing the increase to 5.71%.

Normally the first Monday of May we join together in the gym of the Memorial School for New Gloucester’s Annual Town Meeting. This year Covid has stripped us of that meeting and we will be voting by paper ballot on June 8th.  Since voters can’t ask questions at a town meeting this year, I encourage all taxpayers to join us on Zoom Monday night at 7pm.  This will be an informational session for the public to ask questions and get information on the warrant for the annual town meeting vote.  The Zoom information and a link to the warrant are available on the town website, newgloucester.com.

Your tax bill goes to 3 places: MSAD 15, Cumberland County, and directly to the town of New Gloucester.  For this current year you’re paying $13.65 per thousand dollars of value; of that, $3.54 per thousand goes directly to the town budget. The proposed budget will raise that to $3.74 per thousand dollars of value.  If the town does not use $500k from the undesignated fund, the increase would bring the town’s tax rate to $4.56 per thousand dollars of property value.  I cannot attest to what the school and county budgets are proposed for next year.

The proposed budget does not add any new services to the mix.  It does still fund 36 hours for the Library Director and 36 for the Assistant Librarian.  All other positions that are currently at 36 hours will stay so. This includes the Code Enforcement Officer, Town Planner, and the Parks and Recreation Director.  The budget increases the Animal Control Officer to a monthly stipend of $1400 from currently about $500.  It also has 3 extra months of salary in the budget for coverage gaps.  There are an additional $25,000 in the Town Manager salary line and a raise in the Selectmen stipends from $1000 per year to $1200 per year.

Capital Projects proposed in the budget include a new Public works dump truck, roll off containers at the transfer station, and putting money into capital improvement reserve accounts.  Already voted on are the Stevens Brook project and a new larger loader at the transfer station.  Added on last minute to the warrant is a $50k request from Undesignated Fund Balance to demolish the old public works building.  The paving plan this year includes Town Farm Rd, Swamp Rd, Megquier Rd, and Chestnut Commons.

Part of this year’s increase is caused by using one-time monies last year.  Revenue was budgeted from FEMA reimbursement for $20k and Interest monies the town had earned from the public works bond while it was waiting to be spent was roughly $85,000.  Neither of those lines of revenue are available this year.  We also budgeted to use $250,000 in this current year from the Undesignated Fund Balance.  When monies like this are used, they certainly benefit the current year tax rate, but the following year it is a hit to the taxpayer as now they have to make up that money that is not there.

I need to note that in general we put money back into the Undesignated Fund every year.  This is from not all budgets being spent and receiving more in revenues like excise tax than was expected. This amount varies every year and is not guaranteed. Our Undesignated Fund Balance is just over $4 million.  Auditors recommend we keep the undesignated fund at about a minimum of $3.5 million.  Funds need to be kept available so the town has monies in case of an emergency and for a daily balance to keep cash flow available while waiting on tax revenue twice a year.

I personally have strong feelings about balancing our budget with one-time monies.  If next year the money is not available in Undesignated Fund Balance, that means the taxpayers are on the hook for what was offset by it this year.   We will also have a new debt/bond payment on Stevens Brook for $90k.  We must not forget the standard increases we face every year including electricity, fuel, insurance, payroll, etc.   Eventually this ‘living off our savings’ is going to have to stop and we are either going to have to see a significant tax rate increase or significant budget cuts. 

The last note I wanted to make is the way the warrant questions are written. The warrant can be found on the town website.  I will use Article 3 as an example.  It has listed out the General Assistance Budget, Animal Control Budget, and Cemeteries Budget.   By voting yes on Article 3 you approve all 3 of the budgets at the selectmen recommended numbers.  You will see the budget committee recommends a different amount but you are not allowed to vote on that number.   If you vote no, then all 3 budgets listed fail for that Article.   There is an Article on the warrant that authorizes departments to continue to run on current budget for 60 days if the budget is voted down.   If you just wanted to vote no on one of the departments on any article, you cannot do that.

I encourage you to get involved and join us Monday night to get more information and make sure your questions are answered.  Absentee ballot request forms are available and the in-person vote will be June 8th from 6am-8pm at the fire station.

Please feel free to reach out to me anytime.

Peter Bragdon

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this opinion piece are solely those of the author. Publication does not reflect endorsement by the NGXchange or its volunteers. NGX welcomes diverse viewpoints and invites your submissions. Learn more here.