HERMON, Maine — Town councilors held a special meeting Friday night to address a series of budget criticisms made in a controversial mass mailing sent out last week by two former councilors running in Tuesday’s local elections.
Anthony Reynolds and Donald Pelletier are engaged in a three-way race for two council seats up for grabs. The third candidate is incumbent Councilor Anne Freeman, who was not involved in the mailing.
In the mailer, Reynolds and Pelletier urged voters to reject two of the articles on the annual town meeting warrant going before residents on Thursday night. They also made several statements critical of recent budget decisions.
During Friday night’s meeting, attended by about 20 residents, all seven councilors and Town Manager Clinton Deschene took steps to refute all of the issues raised in the mailer. They also fielded questions from residents, some of whom support the two candidates, some whom do not, and others seeking a better understanding of the town’s budget and financial situation.
In the mailer, Reynolds and Pelletier made several claims about the proposed budget, including the statements that it will result in an 11 percent tax hike and in 50 percent raises for some employees.
They also said plans to use $465,000 in unrestricted net assets will “fund a budget that positions the town to add unnecessary services and increases salaries.”
Council Chairwoman Sharon Nickerson admitted she was stumped about how Reynolds and Pelletier arrived at their conclusions. She said it was unfortunate neither attended the meeting to enlighten councilors and residents.
Deschene said he tried to replicate the figures cited in the mailer but was unable to determine their methodology.
Pelletier and Reynolds said last week that they and their supporters have been analyzing town budget documents for the last three months and stand by their figures.
After some discussion, town councilors decided to issue a mailer of their own to set the record straight.
Deschene said town funds cannot be used for “political speech,” so the flier will be paid for with private funds.
He said residents who want budget information also can find it in the Hermon Connection newsletter and on the town’s website, www.hermon.net. In addition, a video of Friday’s meeting will be posted on the town’s website by noon Monday.
Councilor Bill Scott was troubled by the claim that taxes would go up 11 percent.
Deschene said the actual increase is 2.2 percent and that he believed Pelletier and Reynolds meant to say expenses in the mailer.
Scott said because of that claim, residents “are going to come to the town meeting screaming.” He called the statement “blatantly false.”
With regard to raises, Deschene said employees are receiving 2 percent increases except for two whose duties expanded through recent restructuring. The assistant recreation director now handles programming and the recreation director now oversees recreation, parks, cemeteries and public works scheduling
Reynolds and Pelletier urged voters to reject a warrant article that would split property tax payments, now due April 1, into two payments due in October and April, saying it would hurt those on fixed incomes and enable councilors to “mask a 20 percent tax hike over two years.”
They also urged voters to turn down an article authorizing the use of $465,000 in unrestricted net assets for various town initiatives because it includes $160,000 for a rescue reserve contingency, saying it isn’t needed because the town already is receiving good service at no cost to taxpayers.
Councilors said the split tax dates would stabilize town revenues and prevent the need for a tax anticipation loan. The town is developing a tax club for those who want to pay monthly.
Deschene and councilors said applying the $465,000 in net assets to the budget would reduce the amount needed from taxpayers and that the rescue contingency wouldn’t be used until the future of ambulance service is decided.
Ambulance service became the source of a feud between town officials and supporters of Hermon Volunteer Rescue, which has been serving the town for more than 40 years, earlier this year when the council voted to implement a fire-based model for emergency medical services.
The decision, which came after numerous attempts to negotiate a contract with the squad, is on hold pending a recommendation from a local task force.
Councilors noted that any expenditure of $25,000 or more from the account would require voter approval.