Swanville residents vote to eliminate social service funding at annual town meeting

Posted March 11, 2011, at 9:58 p.m.

SWANVILLE, Maine — A year after voting for sharp reductions in their municipal budget, Swanville residents this week decided at the annual town meeting to add some money back — but still turned down all requests for funding from area social service agencies.

The meeting, held Tuesday night at the Kermit Nickerson School, drew about 40 voters and took about 2½ hours to discuss and decide the warrant articles, according to Select Board Chairman Brian Thompson.

“There was a lot of discussion about everything,” Thompson said.

Ultimately, the town adopted a municipal budget of $354,795, not including the school and county costs. Last year, Swanville’s budget was just $252,893.

“Last year they really cut the budget, severely cut the budget,” Thompson said. “They found that it didn’t work … Now, they’ve got it down so far we have no surplus. It’s nail biting time in July and August to pay bills.”

The town had to call a special meeting last year to request more funds so that the municipal government would keep going, he said.

About $15,000 was added to this year’s budget for the administration.

Last year, the town also cut the budget for solid waste removal, and added back $40,000 for that on Tuesday night.

Swanville last year paid $5,895 to Belfast for firefighting. That sum was more than tripled to $17,305 this year, Thompson said. The fee paid to the neighboring city for ambulance coverage was $3,000 last year but $6,190 this year.

Additionally, Swanville has voted to set aside $3,200 for general assistance.

However, some major cuts to the budget that first were made at last year’s meeting have remained, including municipal money for social service agencies.

In 2009, Swanville voters elected to raise $26,000 for agencies including the American Red Cross, the Waldo County YMCA, New Hope For Women and others. But in 2010, residents voted the requests down, Thompson said.

“The town last year said, ‘If you want to donate, send your donations in with your taxes,’” he recounted.

About $1,300 was donated by individuals over the last year to various social service agencies, he said.

For this year’s annual town meeting, the Select Board had decided not to include the social service requests in the warrant because of the continued bad economy, Thompson said.

But some residents petitioned to return the requests to the warrant, including Dan Horton, who said that it wasn’t hard to gather enough signatures once he explained what had happened.

“I felt that we have an obligation in our society. Government is supposed to help the people, to help all people,” he said.

Voters chose to address the funding for all agencies at once, instead of one at a time.

Horton said that some residents did vote by show of hands to fund the agencies, but moderator Aaron Fethke found that a clear majority of those in attendance turned it down.

“I understand these services. They’re wonderful services,” Thompson said. “But as people said, don’t make your neighbor pay for something you want.”

Another issue that sparked major debate was the question of road repair, he said. Two articles for road work were on the warrant, including a recommended sum of $232,000 to be used to fix and resurface part of Curtis Road and a sum of $20,000 to do general road maintenance.

The town voted down the larger amount of money but agreed to the $20,000, Thompson said, adding that Swanville didn’t do much ditching or other repairs last year.

Residents also voted to reduce salaries of town employees by about $5,000, to a total of $63,555, Thompson said.

The day before the meeting, voters chose elected officials, all of whom ran unopposed. Those include Laurie Johnson as tax collector, Helen Christensen as treasurer, town clerk and registrar of voters, and Terry Sawyer as a planning board member.

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