Budget committee absorbs much information at meeting

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Budget Committee members absorbed much information and many opinions at their March 5 and March 7 meetings, though they are well short of overall budget figures needed to begin making recommendations to voters.

The total budget for the current (July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019) fiscal year is somewhat under $10 million. The school budget, which is not yet determined for 2019-2020, is somewhat under $8 million, of which almost $3.7 million comes from local funds. Vassalboro’s share of the 2018-2019 Kennebec County budget is $325,000 and change, with the 2019-2020 assessment also undetermined as of early March.

Questions budget committee members discussed at their two early-March meetings include whether to repair the town grader, buy a second-hand replacement or ask Road Commissioner Eugene Field to lease a grader as needed; whether to replace the police cruiser; additional staffing and possible redesign at the transfer station; and town employees’ salaries.

Last year’s future capital expenditure summary describes Vassalboro’s 1991 grader’s condition as good. At the March 5 meeting, Selectman Lauchlin Titus updated: “It’s still a four-letter word, but the word is ‘junk.’”

Field thinks repairs possible. He recommends committing at least $20,000 to have the grader examined and tested; if it is repairable, he expects at least another five years’ work from it. He said he found one used grader, a 2005, for $80,000; he does not support buying a new one at $280,000 or more.

Vassalboro has only 2.2 miles of unpaved public roads that need annual grading. However, Field said, he and his crew use the grader for shoulder work after paving and as the reserve vehicle in case a plow truck breaks down in mid-storm. Graders are not readily available, he said; if he had to rely on leasing he might not find one when needed.

Discussion of the grader, planned 2019 paving and deteriorating culverts led several people to share accounts of towns elsewhere whose officials have discontinued or dead-ended roads when they could not afford maintenance or a replacement bridge.

Field also requests funding for a new small truck. Asked at the March 7 meeting whether the truck or the grader is more important, he said he needs both.

Police Chief Mark Brown wants his 12-year-old cruiser replaced. He recommended buying a new one, preferably an all-wheel-drive SUV prewired for lights and siren, over three years. The estimated annual payment would be about $13,000. At this early stage in the budget process, his proposal appears to have support.

If he does not get a new vehicle, Brown said, the repair budget needs a generous increase, because the current one keeps having problems – it’s “nickel and diming the town to death.”

Transfer Station Manager George Hamar said he would like a full-time assistant. He has worked alone for a year, having to skip training classes and find a substitute if he is ill.

Town Manager Mary Sabins is considering seeking a new employee qualified to divide hours between public works and the transfer station.

Selectman John Melrose proposes a $5,000 appropriation to get a traffic engineer’s suggestions about changing the traffic pattern at the transfer station to make it safer.

Sabins presented her salary recommendations for current town employees and for any new hires. At this stage, the only firm figure in that area is Sabins’ contractual two percent raise.

The budget committee’s job, as re-elected Chairman Rick Denico reminded members March 5, is to advise voters on selectmen’s and school board members’ recommended expenditures for the new fiscal year. “We can work with the numbers, but we can’t change policy,” he said.

Later in the meeting, budget committee member and former Police Chief Richard Phippen wanted to talk about the selectmen’s policy on policing, which emphasizes community policing and leaves monitoring for speeders mostly to county and state law enforcement. Phippen said residents want as much speed control as possible; Denico repeated policy is not the budget committee’s job.

Policy and priorities, resident Holly Weidner suggested, should be considered at one or more public meetings in the fall, well before the pre-town-meeting budget crunch. Denico referred her to the 2014 Capital Expenses Committee reports on the town website as a starting point, and Selectman Robert Browne invited her to bring concerns to a selectmen’s meeting.

The budget committee canceled scheduled March 12 and March 14 meetings, because Sabins will be out of town – in Washington, D.C., representing Maine in her capacity as Maine Municipal Association President, Titus said approvingly. They also canceled a March 19 meeting because they had talked March 7 with most of the people invited March 19.

Their next meeting is currently scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, March 21, after that evening’s selectmen’s meeting. Expected attendees include representatives of the volunteer fire department; a Cemetery Committee representative to explain a request for money for software; and any social service agencies whose requests are new this year.


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