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Norway board puts trimmed $3.9M budget on town meeting warrant
NORWAY — The board of selectmen, at its May 16 meeting, voted to put a $3.9 million budget on this year's town meeting warrant.
Residents will vote on the 46 warrant articles at the June 17 town meeting in the Forum at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School at 7 p.m.
On May 2, selectmen decided to proceed with its June meeting, despite uncertainty over the outcome of Governor Paul LePage's proposed 2013-2014 biennial state budget.
Town Manager David Holt has warned that if LePage's budget, which proposed the elimination of municipal revenue sharing, is passed, the town would immediately need to cut $250,000 from its budget.
That number is now higher than originally projected. On Tuesday, Holt said the selectboard has had to cut $316,296 in spending, as compared to last year’s budget.
On May 16, after the regular selectmen meeting, selectmen entered into a budget workshop and reviewed a summary of appropriations, including a "normal" budget without cuts and another budget with cuts.
The budget they worked on did not include county tax, $322,370, or the town's share of the SAD 17 School District budget, $3,294,821.
"I have never seen cuts like these in my years of public service, but I believe the two boards have been thoughtful and have tried to be consistent and fair," Holt wrote in an e-mail on May 17.
During the workshop last week, Holt said he appreciated the budget committee's effort in drafting this year's budget, particularly with cuts expected to come from the state.
"It's an unusual and difficult year," Holt said, in terms of budgeting.
The budget committee, he explained, recommended selectmen pass "a bare-bones budget," and "when and if the state budget ever gets resolved, they would leave it up to the selectboard ... to find the proper ways to elevate these revenues."
Cuts include eliminating a member of the highway department, a police officer and reducing town office hours.
Selectmen agreed to fund general administration at $310,205 as recommended by the budget committee. The other recommendation, $305,205, called for a $5,000 reduction in the town manager's pay per year.
The lower-paid town employees, however, would be seeing increases in their pay checks, Holt said. Currently, Norway's town clerk is paid $3,000 less than the clerks in Paris and Oxford, he said.
Holt said "by and large, the budget committee went along with a budget that would be reflective of the LePage cuts." However, he said, the budget committee has agreed it would like to see the police department retain its drug enforcement officer.
Holt explained the department has re-applied for a Justice COPS Hiring grant hopeful that it would be able to fund and keep the position.
The officer with the least tenure, Holt said, will be cut under union contract terms. The drug enforcement officer will then switch to patrol, he said.
Selectmen also OK'd $48,250 for the municipal complex, $431,078 for employee benefits and $52,500 for planning and enforcement.
Holt said if the selectmen went with the "LePage" version of the planning and enforcement budget, it would need to cut membership to Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments.
"I know and believe it's a bad idea, but it's one of many cuts we are making that are a bad idea," Holt acknowledged. Selectmen, however, agreed the town benefited greatly from AVCOG and decided to spend $6,000 more for the service.
The police department would be funded at $442,211, excluding the drug enforcement officer, and the fire department would be funded at $186,000, selectmen said.
Holt said Fire Chief Dennis Yates put forth a proposal to become full-time chief. An article on the warrant asks voters whether the selectmen should appoint a committee to study the merits of appointing Yates and what the savings would be, Holt said.
Another $20,000 would be appropriated to a reserve fund for the future purchase of a fire truck and other equipment, according to the town meeting warrant.
In addition, $13,714 would be spent on animal control, $1,350 on emergency management,$171,664 on utilities and $121,000 on insurance.
Selectmen also agreed to spend $671,608 on the highway department and public works, $283,347 to Norway/Paris Solid Waste and $9,300 for cemeteries.
Holt said the town will be spending less on the highway department this year by eliminating one if its mowing contracts, including work at town cemeteries, and its two trash removal contracts. Highway department supervisor Ron Springer would pick up the work, he said.
Voters will also choose whether to raise and appropriate $83,296 for General Assistance, $26,704 less than last year; $225,000 for the Norway Library; $94,094 for recreation and $48,000 for community preservation and development, including $6,020 for the Norway Historical Society and $4,500 for Norway Downtown.
Under the LePage budget, nothing would be spent on provider agencies, like the Red Cross, Holt said.
"I don't feel right telling our taxpayers who they are going to make donations to each year," said Board Chairman Russ Newcomb.
At the same rate, he said, he understood that "tough times" may require more help from provider agencies. "But we are also trying to keep folks in their homes and not losing their homes because they can't pay taxes," Newcomb stated.
The board agreed to not fund provider agencies this year to save $20,000-$25,000.
Voters at town meeting will vote whether to enact amendments to the Norway Rental Occupancy Ordinance, the Norway Building Code and the 2012 Norway Electrical Ordinance.
A public hearing will be held June 6 at 7 p.m. in the town office on Danforth Street. The board agreed to hold a public hearing this year, particularly because of the major cuts being proposed.