Budget breezes through in Pittsfield

Posted Dec. 23, 2009, at 9:26 p.m.

PITTSFIELD, Maine — Quiet constituents are happy constituents, or at least that’s the message heard by the Town Council during weeks of budget meetings where there was virtually no participation by the public.

The council’s final unanimous votes on the budget were witnessed by dozens of attendees last week, but all of them came for other reasons.

“It was a pretty bare-bones budget,” said Councilor Donna Chale during a telephone interview. “There wasn’t much to talk about with it.”

The 2010 municipal budget, including capital expenditures, is about $2.8 million, a 2 percent drop from the 2009 amount. That does not include funding for public schools or Somerset County government; those budgets will be developed in 2010. The full impact on property taxes won’t be known until those components are in place.

One of the few items that triggered debate among councilors was whether to set aside $70,000 in a reserve account for unforeseen expenditures or increases in the school or county budgets.

Councilor Wayne Fotter, who attended his final meeting as a councilor last week, was one of the councilors initially advocating for the measure, though the councilors voted unanimously in support of it in the end.

“There’s nothing lost and everything gained by it,” said Fotter. “If we don’t use it, we’ve still got it. It can be put back in next year to make tax bills lower.”

Chale said that in addition to the steady bottom line, she is pleased that the council managed to set aside $1.2 million for capital expenses with only $190,000 funded through local taxation. The rest is supported by bonds, grants and the town’s cash reserves.

“A lot of towns are not always able to fund that,” said Chale. “We are planning ahead.” Among the looming problems is a severely deteriorated sewer and water system.

Fotter and Chale credited the town’s department heads and Town Manager Kathryn Ruth for bringing a responsible municipal budget to the council.

Fotter said he regrets leaving the board, but has to mostly because of his deteriorating vision, which has required him in recent years to use a large magnifying machine to read documents. After decades on the council, planning board and other town committees, Fotter, 70, said it’s time to step away — mostly. He’s still an associate member of the appeals board.

“I very much enjoyed working for the community,” said Fotter. “It’s our town and we need to take care of everyone.”

Robert Stackhouse, who has served on the council previously, will take over Fotter’s seat at the next council meeting Jan. 5.

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