DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — In a spirited discussion of the proposed municipal budget at a public hearing Monday, budget advisory committee members expressed opposing views on spending.
Committee member Chris Maas, who said he had spent considerable time reviewing the spending plan, comparing it with similar-size towns and meeting with department heads, said the town was “underspending.” He said the town has about a $4 million backlog of projects that need to be addressed.
The proposed municipal spending plan of $1,849,130 is $30,775 below a spending cap set by state law. Of the $3,616,510 in proposed appropriations, $2,574,255 would be raised through property taxes. In comparison, $3,152,880 was raised through property taxes in 2009-10.
Town Manager Jack Clukey said no property tax dollars are budgeted for road improvements. “We’re underfunding maintaining our paved roads,” he said. At a cost of $11,000 a mile, the town would need $385,000 a year for its 35 miles, and that doesn’t include repair to gravel roads, he said.
Those numbers did little to sway Bil Weidner, an alternate to the committee. He took the committee and selectmen to task for not implementing proposed budget reductions, and he faulted the budget process.
“We really didn’t do a good job,” Weidner said of the budget review. “I don’t think we deserve any pats on the back for this at all.” He pointed out that the municipal, county and school budgets would increase taxes by about 2 mills. Even after more than a month of review, Weidner said, the budget figures proposed in the town warrant were the same budget figures Town Manager Jack Clukey had submitted initially.
Resident Lori Calderone said town officials need to provide a higher level of accountability than is being shown. No clear explanation is given, she said, about why town officials need to raise the mill rate or why cuts can’t be made.
Weidner said he tried to focus on a couple of areas where cuts or spending caps might be appropriate, which included the library, but he said he didn’t get any cooperation from the committee. “No one wanted to cut anything.” He also aired his displeasure that the committee had not considered suggestions outlined in a letter from resident Donald Benjamin.
Committee members said Benjamin’s letter came at the last meeting and at the very last minute when the budget review was nearly completed. Some said Benjamin, who was in attendance at most of the committee meetings, should have discussed his views during those sessions.
Committee member Bruce Grant said he found “nothing new” in Benjamin’s letter. It makes no sense to take an “underfunded budget by several million dollars and start nickeling and diming the departments to death with no good end,” he said. “The decrease just scares the socks off me,” he said. A little investment now could save some dollars later, he said.
Committee member Steve Grammont said he also worried about the “significant deficiencies” in the budget and what effect it would have on the future of the town. He said he and his wife could have moved and taken their businesses anywhere in the world, but they chose Dover-Foxcroft because of its services and infrastructure. Improvements are needed to keep the youth in the area and entice people to move to the community, he said.
“We are being decimated, and not so slowly,” resident Sue Mackey Andrews said of the lack of capital improvements.
“The capital budget is what’s really going to sink this town,” committee member John Baiamonte said.
The annual town meeting to determine warrant articles will be held at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 24, at the municipal building. A secret-ballot referendum on the money articles will be held on June 8 at the same location.