HERMON, Maine — After a nearly hour-long public hearing last week, town councilors put their stamp of approval on a $4.8 million spending plan for municipal operations in the coming fiscal year.
The proposed budget now is on its way to the annual town meeting on June 16, during which residents will be asked to adopt it.
Town Manager Clinton Deschene said during a recent interview that local officials have drafted a $4,834,613 municipal spending plan that would be offset by a projected $3,347,755 in revenues and $465,000 in unrestricted net assets, informally known as fund balance.
School officials are requesting $3,924,444 for Hermon’s share of education costs, Deschene said.
Barring any major changes, the proposed municipal budget, along with the local share for education costs, will result in a projected tax rate of $11.80 per $1,000 in property valuation, up about 4 percent from this year’s $11.54 per $1,000,
During a council meeting last Thursday night, Deschene, Council Chairwoman Sharon Nickerson and town councilors said they have put together a solid plan that will maintain the current level of services with slightly fewer staff and allow for some badly needed projects, such as road paving.
Not all residents, however, are pleased with the end result, as evidenced by the unusually large attendance at recent council meetings and workshops, which are recorded and posted on the town’s web site. Residents have been showing up by the dozens. Several have come armed with budget printouts, calculators, pencils and highlighters.
Though not all of the critics are connected to the Hermon Volunteer Rescue and First Aid squad, the council’s decision in January to bring emergency medical services under the auspices of the municipal fire department appears to have mobilized a growing and increasingly vocal group of residents who have been scrutinizing the proposed budget.
Deschene said last week that the tension and anger that has flared up is part of the backlash town officials have been experiencing since the council’s February vote.
The decision shocked and angered members and supporters of the Hermon Volunteer Rescue and First Aid, the private nonprofit group that has served the community for more than four decades. Hermon Rescue was one of three organizations that responded to the town’s request for proposals from potential service providers after numerous failed attempts to reach a contract agreement with the local volunteer squad.
The move toward fire-base emergency medical services is on hold while a task force works with town and rescue squad representatives to come up with a solution that will meet the community’s needs.
Resident Anthony Reynolds, a former town councilor, said last week that the informal group of residents that has been scrutinizing the budget plan includes people with ties to Hermon Rescue as well as several former town councilors.
Among the budget lines that the residents’ group plans to challenge during the town meeting is a $160,000 rescue service contingency. How much of that, if any, actually will be spent depends on what officials decide to do about ambulance services, Deschene said late last month.
Reynolds said he and others in the residents’ group believe that voters should decide who provides ambulance services in the town.
Reynolds said the group also is taking aim at a warrant article that would split property taxes into two payments, one in October and one in April. He said Monday that the change would hurt people living on fixed incomes.
Deschene said the move would provide the town a steadier revenue stream.
Resident Jeanne Jacques has spoken out in recent meetings and in an interview against a multi-year employment contract councilors are considering for Deschene and the pay and benefits increase he is slated to received next year.
Jacques and Reynolds pegged the increase at 19.5 percent. Deschene, however, said his analysis indicates the figure is 11.5 percent.
Nickerson defended the increase during last week’s council meeting. She said a salary survey showed that the manager’s pay was comparable to that of other managers in towns of similar size.