Layoff notices sent to town staff after Wiscasset voters reject budget

Posted July 12, 2013, at 4:18 p.m.

WISCASSET, Maine — After voters at the June 11 town meeting rejected budgets for four municipal departments, on July 5, the town sent layoff notices to the municipal planner, town assessor and four other employees, leaving those departments — as well as the transfer station — in jeopardy of closing.

Members of the Board of Selectmen and the Budget Committee instructed Town Manager Laurie Smith to send the notices, Smith said Friday.

No layoffs would occur until September because voters approved a warrant article to spend three-twelfths of the 2012 annual budget, she said.

“Selectmen felt they needed to send layoff notices because they don’t have assurances that the Budget Committee is going to be in favor of the recommendations in terms of bringing back a new budget, or that it’s possible to meet the expectations of the Budget Committee,” she said.

Although selectmen proposed a $5.04 million budget that was $300,000 less than the 2012 budget, voters on June 11 rejected budgets for the planning, assessing and codes enforcement departments and the transfer station.

Smith said selectmen had directed her to reduce the municipal budget because owners of Point East, a failed development on the site of the former Mason Station power plant, have not paid about $850,000 in assessed property taxes since 2007.

At a July 2 meeting, Budget Committee members opposed a contractual increase in the town assessor’s salary. All committee members except one were against funding the town planner position “because they saw no economic growth in the town and recommended eliminating the position,” the official meeting minutes stated.

Eliminating four departments would save $700,000 in the budget, according to Smith. However, she said the town can’t run properly without them.

“If we do not have a transfer station budget passed, I can’t move forward,” Smith said Friday. “Even if I had people, if I have no money to dispose of trash and haul it away, I don’t see how I can operate. If I have no assessor, I can’t make a tax commitment come September, so how am I going to fund these positions. If there is no code enforcement officer, there are not permits available to people to build — no activity can take place, and the town can’t be in compliance with its own ordinances and state law.”

Bob Blagden, chairman of the Budget Committee, said Friday that the panel’s members did recommend eliminating that town planner position — which he said “has always been a little controversial” — but only proposed changes to the other positions, including reducing the code enforcement officer position to part time or on-call, perhaps combining the assessor’s position with a vacant executive secretary’s position, and cutting back on staffing at the transfer station.

“I don’t think there’s anybody who thinks the town will be able to function without having someplace to use as a dump, but the people voted no, so the Budget Committee’s position would be to come up with a proposal that doesn’t cost quite so much,” he said.

Blagden said planning, recreation and police department budgets have all been voted down in previous years.

The Board of Selectmen is scheduled to meet Tuesday to determine whether to bring a new budget back to voters at a Sept. 10 election, and if they do, what amounts they will propose.

The Budget Committee is scheduled to meet July 18.

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