Eddington meeting erupts into screaming match over changing fiscal year

Eddington Town Manager Russell Smith (left) and Planning Board member Gretchen Heldmann in this February 2013 file photo. An argument Tuesday night over changing the town’s fiscal year to align with the state’s fiscal year grew heated after board members and the public disagreed about making the move, which residents approved at the 2012 annual town meeting.
Carter F. McCall | BDN
Eddington Town Manager Russell Smith (left) and Planning Board member Gretchen Heldmann in this February 2013 file photo. An argument Tuesday night over changing the town’s fiscal year to align with the state’s fiscal year grew heated after board members and the public disagreed about making the move, which residents approved at the 2012 annual town meeting. Buy Photo
Posted July 17, 2013, at 1:04 p.m.

EDDINGTON, Maine — An argument Tuesday night over changing the town’s fiscal year to align with the state’s fiscal year grew heated after board members and the public disagreed about making the move, which residents approved at the 2012 annual town meeting.

“It was one of the more contentious meetings in Eddington I’ve attended,” said Gretchen Heldmann, a planning board member who attended the meeting and admitted she was one of the people who yelled.

Town Manager Russell Smith said Wednesday that the boisterous discussion only took up a small portion of the meeting, which was attended by about 25 residents, and in the end the public’s wishes were followed.

Eddington has operated on a Feb. 1 to Jan. 31 fiscal year for decades and talked for years about changing to align with the state’s fiscal year that runs July 1 to June 30. Voters at the March 2012 annual town meeting endorsed changing the fiscal year and the disagreement Tuesday was over whether to move forward with the residents’ request.

“Some wanted to go ahead and some didn’t,” Smith said of town selectmen. “We weren’t sure if we were changing the year.”

Because of the uncertainty, Smith prepared a seven-month town budget that would again carry the town until the end of January, but selectmen voted Tuesday night to hold another public hearing Monday, July 22, to review the second portion of a 17-month budget that would align the town’s fiscal year with the state.

Residents already approved a partial 5-month budget at the annual town meeting earlier this year, and in June extended it to the end of July because the town manager was out on sick leave.

“We just have to approve another 12 months to get us through until July 1,” Smith said. “I’m working on those [budget figures] right now.”

When one selectman at Tuesday’s meeting said changing the fiscal year would not really benefit the town and suggested no change be made, Heldmann said, “I just exploded.”

“The thing we’re getting is being on the same page as the state, the county and the school department,” she said. “When the budget is created in February, you just have no idea. You’re completely shooting in the dark.”

“We had a public hearing last night and the people wanted to go forward and that is what we’re going to do,” Russell said.

The property tax rate also has not been set because of the fluctuating numbers, Smith said, adding he expects it to increase by about $1.20 per $1,000 in property values, which is about 30 cents less than initially projected, he said.

“Originally, with the school’s increase, we were looking at $1.50,” the town manager said. “It should increase from $11.90 to $13.10.”

Another change with the new fiscal year will be tax due dates, Smith said.

“There will be two tax bills — one due in September and one due in March,” he said. “We’ve always just had the one tax payment in September. We think this will make it easier especially since this first year there is five months more they are paying for.

“After the first year, it will go back to 12 months,” Smith said.

The public hearing on the budget is 6 p.m. Monday, July 22 at the town hall, and the town meeting where the budget is scheduled to be finalized is planned for 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 30.

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