BALDWIN, Maine — Emotions were kept in check Saturday afternoon at a special town meeting in Baldwin, where residents last month voted during an explosive annual town meeting to reduce selectmen’s pay.
Saturday’s meeting was called in part to allow voters to reconsider the decision to cut selectmen paychecks, a move many in the 1,500-person Cumberland County town considered a personal attack on the board members.
The Saturday affair packed the Baldwin Consolidated Elementary School cafeteria, but did not provide the fireworks reported in the town’s annual meeting held March 9, when the police were reportedly called to restore peace.
The decision that triggered the controversy, however, withstood the challenge of a second town meeting vote.
With a vote of 78 in favor and 86 against, an article seeking to overturn the previous month’s vote on the three selectmen’s pay and restore their wages of $13 per hour each was defeated.
During the March annual town meeting, a motion to change to stipend payments of $7,000 for the first selectman and $6,000 each for the two other board members was passed by a 59-42 tally.
The change effectively cuts the total amount the town will spend on its selectmen from $41,000 to about $19,000.
Selectman Gary McNeil told town meeting attendees Saturday that, divided out over the course of a year even using the state’s minimum hourly wage of $7.50, the stipends would keep selectmen from working any more than between 15 and 18 hours per week.
That’s a departure from their current workloads, McNeil said, noting that First Selectman Allan Dolloff works at least 20-25 hours every week at the town office.
“For them to be reduced to $6,000 or $7,000, it’s a slap in the face,” said resident Thomas Caron, who circulated a petition to call the special town meeting Saturday.
The two town meetings came against a backdrop of deep divisions in the town, with ardent supporters of longtime selectman Norman McKinney still stinging over his campaign loss in 2012. The board’s decision two months ago not to renew its deal with veteran code enforcement officer Brandon Woolley reportedly ratcheted tensions in the town further.
During Saturday’s meeting, McNeil said opponents had characterized the current selectmen as “arrogant” and “belligerent” in a letter that appeared in a local shopper publication.
But Larry Lord, who said he recommended the pay change on March 9, said the proposal was made after reviewing how much neighboring towns paid selectmen and what tasks the elected officials in those towns were being charged with.
Lord said he believed the selectmen should be serving more as a “board of directors” meeting occasionally to set policy and delegate responsibilities to town staff, instead of taking on those responsibilities themselves.
“It wasn’t personalized, it wasn’t meant to be personalized,” Lord told fellow meeting attendees.
Robert Heard, chairman of the Board of Selectmen in nearby Porter, said the three members of his board make between $5,500 and $6,500 and that they do “roughly the same” work as their Baldwin counterparts. Heard was nominated early in the meeting to serve as the moderator, but residents elected in-town candidate David Strock to the afternoon post instead by a 70-50 vote.
“There are four other towns in [our school district], and they all pay their selectmen salaries,” said one resident, Richard Sanborn. “What we’re doing here is not unique.”
Sanborn said calling a second town meeting to re-vote on an item decided the previous month “flies in the face of democracy.”
After voting to maintain the new pay scheme for selectmen chosen last month, residents on Saturday also voted to allocate an additional $6,500 in town funds for increased ambulance coverage from the neighboring town of Standish and rejected a motion to call another special town meeting within the year to consider taking public ownership of a landmark water tower.
In the latter case, residents unanimously voted that considering the water tower acquisition at the March 2014 town meeting after structural and environmental tests are conducted, as was previously planned, is soon enough.
Residents also voted unanimously to cut from the warrant an article seeking to reaffirm their town meeting form of government after moderator Strock informed them the question was nonbinding and would not affect their government process no matter what they voted.