HERMON, Maine — Following the lead of two Town Council candidates who issued a mass mailing critical of recent budget decisions, voters on Thursday shot down a town meeting warrant article seeking the split property tax payments over two dates.
They also deleted a proposed $160,000 rescue contingency from a warrant article calling for the use of cash reserves, though they left intact the remaining $394,749 in appropriations for such town initiatives as economic development, technology, fire equipment and public works.
Both changes were approved by fairly wide margins during the meeting, which drew nearly 250 residents to the Hermon High School auditorium and lasted nearly two hours. The crowd was much larger than usual, town officials said. Last year’s meeting drew about 50 people.
In their mass mailing, candidates Anthony Reynolds and Donald Pelletier, both of whom are former Town Council members, urged voters to reject warrant articles seeking to split tax payments in two, now due April 1, claiming it would hurt those on fixed incomes and allow town councilors to mask future tax hikes and fund unspecified “unnecessary services,” charges that town councilors rejected in a countermailer sent out this week.
They also urged residents to oppose the rescue contingency, which they said wasn’t needed since the town has no plans in place for the future of ambulance services and already is served by Hermon Volunteer Rescue at no cost to taxpayers.
The two are the apparent winner’s of Tuesday’s election. Reynolds led with 367 votes. However, Pelletier, who had 319 votes, outpaced incumbent Anne Freeman by only one vote. A recount is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday in the council chambers.
Current town councilors upset Hermon Rescue volunteers and supporters earlier this year, when they voted to implement a fire-based emergency medical services model after years of attempting to negotiate a contract with the local rescue group. Given the local uproar, the decision is on hold pending the recommendations of a task force appointed this spring.
During the town meeting, Reynolds and several other residents who spoke said the town has been well served by Hermon Rescue, established more than 40 years ago. Though he said the group would continue to serve at no cost to the town, local officials said they had yet to see that in writing.
Frank Crowley was among those who opposed the fire-based model, which town councilors acknowledged would not generate revenue.
“So what you’re saying is you’d like to start something that you’re going to lose money on and [will] raise taxes?” he said, drawing applause from the crowd.
After the meeting, Reynolds said Thursday’s large turnout was proof that residents are frustrated.
“I see it as a show of support for Hermon Rescue,” he said. He also said residents are unhappy about raises for town administrators and increases in various budget lines. He said many were taken aback when they learned a town administrator’s son had been awarded a mowing contract without it having gone out to bid.
Despite a series of sometimes confusing motions aimed at cutting taxes — some voted down and one withdrawn — voters adopted the rest of the town’s nearly $4.8 million spending plan for municipal operations in the year ahead.
As a result of the changes that were made Thursday, the town’s tax rate — which also reflects a $3.9 million bill for local education — is projected to drop a bit. Though calculations have yet to be made, Town Manager Clint Deschene estimated that the property tax rate likely will decrease from the previously projected $11.80 per $1,000 in property valuation to a level closer to the current $11.54.
Another outcome is that because the tax due date article was voted down 105-71, the town now is without a deadline. Deschene said councilors will take that matter up during their next regular meeting, set for June 23.