by Mary Grow
Hours of negotiation between budget committee and school board members and the board of selectmen paid off at the first session of Vassalboro’s town meeting June 5, as voters approved all recommended appropriations.
One resident asked how come the recommendations of the town boards were all in agreement. Budget Committee Chairman John Melrose first joked that it was because the budget committee was able to persuade selectmen the budget committee was right. More seriously, he said officials worked toward consensus, believing it to be in the town’s interest.
Lauchlin Titus, chair of the selectmen, called 2017 “one of the toughest budget sessions I think I’ve ever been involved in.”
Currently, voters have raised their tax rate by 0.88 mils (88 cents for each $1,000 of valuation). However, town officials and state Representative Richard Bradstreet expect the final increase to be less, because they expect more state funding for schools than in the budget the legislature is now reviewing.
To cover the expected change, a new 2017-18 school budget article says that if state school funding is higher than expected, the additional money will be used to lower taxes, up to the $338,681 coming from the town in the budget approved at the meeting. When Larisa Batchelder asked about postponing a vote on the school budget until the legislature and governor approve state funding, Selectman Philip Haines said a later town vote would require a special town meeting, with a quorum requirement that might be hard to meet in the summer. Town officials expect a final figure in July. In 2016, selectmen set the tax rate at their Aug. 8 meeting.
Town meeting continues on Tuesday, June 13, with local elections and a written-ballot vote to approve or reject the school budget. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the town office.
Voters at the June 5 open meeting agreed to group multiple articles together, including the municipal government appropriation and the school appropriation, sparing the need for Moderator Richard Thompson to read each item separately. With only a few questions and comments from the 120 or more voters assembled, the meeting lasted less than two hours.
In addition to authorizing 2017-18 spending, voters approved an amended Shoreland Zoning Ordinance and a revised Sanitary District Charter; allowed selectmen to apply for state aid to rebuild the East Vassalboro boat launch; approved exercising the “put option” with the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company (PERC); and elected five budget committee members.
The PERC article was followed by an explanation that a voter suggested was not entirely clear. Town Manager Mary Sabins explained in a sentence: when Vassalboro agreed to send its trash to PERC years ago, the town bought part ownership in the company, and now PERC is buying back Vassalboro’s shares for an expected $13,514.13. Donald Breton, William Browne, Peggy Schaffer and Eddie Scholz were re-elected to the budget committee for two years, and Phil Landry defeated Holly Weidner by four votes for the seat vacated by Lori Fowle. The complete town meeting warrant is in the 2016 town report, which is dedicated to the late Jim Mitchell. Mitchell also received a posthumous Spirit of America award, accepted by his widow, Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell, and other family members.