HAMPDEN, Maine — After months of contentious and sometimes even rowdy meetings and public hearings, Monday’s night’s regular meeting of the Hampden Town Council was relatively calm as council members voted 4-3 to pass the proposed 2012 town budget.
Councilors Janet Hughes, Jean Lawliss, Tom Brann and Shelby Wright — who was sworn in earlier in the evening — voted in favor of the $9,284,466 budget, which will result in a tax rate of $15.90 per $1,000 valuation — the same rate as each of the previous three years.
About 40 residents attended the meeting.
“I was surprised by the low turnout last night, but that’s pretty much how I expected it to go,” said Hughes, who is also Hampden’s mayor. “I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. The last six months have been a contentious series of meetings, but that wasn’t the case last night.”
The previous Town Council meeting on June 6 ended with some heated arguments breaking out as residents and councilors were leaving the Hampden Town Office council chamber. Two uniformed police officers were in attendance Monday night, but there wasn’t so much as a raised voice during the 2½-hour meeting.
“I’m grateful we were able to hold the mill rate without cutting services,” said Councilor Andre Cushing, the deputy mayor.
Cushing, Kristen Hornbrook, and Bill Shakespeare voted against the budget. Neither Cushing nor Wright said why they voted no.
“For me I don’t know if it was anticlimactic as much as it was surprising the way the vote went the way it did,” said Hornbrook. “That was my first budget vote, so I was kind of dumbfounded after the way it passed.”
Budgetary items that seemed to cause the most disagreement were a $3,000 marketing expense (a $2,500 increase from 2011), a $1,500 advertising expense (a $1,000 decrease) and payments to outside agencies, specifically $500 for the Bangor Sexually Transmitted Diseases Clinic.
“I don’t think they were concerned with the increase so much as they were about it being a donation to an outside entity and it being more of a funding item,” Hughes said of councilors and residents who objected to funding the agencies. “The way we look at that outside agencies section is we request these agencies show us how our funding affects us directly, and that’s the same for other agencies like Penquis CAP or Eastern Area Agency on Aging. In this case, Hampden citizens were getting services from that clinic.”
Hornbrook questioned whether the town should fund the agencies at all, arguing that it seemed more like a donation, and said council policy on such funding should be reviewed.
Hughes wasn’t disappointed by the close vote on the budget, saying it’s an example of democracy in action and all townspeople being represented.
“I hope there’s at least something in there not everybody agrees on, and we should be questioning all items along the way,” said Hughes. “There were still some things left over last night that some people disagreed with, but the time for debating those things had already come and gone.”
After a motion was made to vote on the budget and it was seconded, Hornbrook said she had some items of concern that residents had complained to her about and she wanted to bring up, but further debate and action wasn’t allowed until a vote was taken.
“I think because of us having some newer councilors, we kind of got caught by confusion with procedural rules,” Hughes explained.
Before discussion of the budget, new councilor Wright was sworn in after winning a June 14 special election with 665 votes to challenger Bernard Philbrick’s 361.
Other items of note were reports from the finance committee and Lura Hoit trustees, a short discussion of the council’s ongoing review of its ethics ordinance and council rules and committee assignments for councilors.
Due to Independence Day occurring on a Monday this year, councilors voted unanimously to cancel the July 4 meeting. The next council meeting is scheduled for Monday, July 18.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Shelby Wright voted against the budget and that Bill Shakespeare voted in favor of it.