FARMINGTON – An issue which provoked significant debate prior to the town meeting passed swiftly Monday evening, with residents approving a police department budget recommended by selectmen.
Voters approved the $1.148 million budget recommended by the selectmen with a hand count, after moderator Paul Mills was left in doubt by the outcome of a verbal vote, with a tabulated vote of 81 in favor and 21 opposed.
There was no discussion about the approved police budget, which was $50,000 less than the one recommended by the budget committee. That budget included $75,000 to build a three-bay garage at the new Richard Caton III Memorial Police Station, encompassing the cost of site work, pouring a slab, building materials and a heating system.
Instead, following the recommendation of the selectmen, the budget includes $25,000 to be placed in a fund to go toward a new garage.
Most budgetary articles passed equally quickly, setting a $4.65 million budget in place for the next fiscal year. The budget is $187,439 or 4.2 percent increase from the current fiscal year, generally representing an across-the-board 3 percent cost-of-living wage increase and an expected jump in fuel oil costs.
Non-town department requests took up the bulk of the roughly 2 hours residents spent on the budget. Voters declined to fulfill a funding request of $2,500 by the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce , once again following a recommendation made by the board of selectmen rather than the budget committee. Those speaking against funding the chamber did so for a variety of reasons: concern about state and/or national chamber organizations using funds for lobbying purposes, concerns about the future of the local chamber and whether taxpaying funds should go to outside agencies were among the concerns raised.
Similar debates unfolded about four other articles; funding requests by the American Red Cross, Safe Voices and two snowmobile clubs. The red cross requested $2,000.
“If you have problems at home, a fire, they’re there,” Fred O. Smith, a budget committee member said, urging support for the article.
While saying he had the “utmost respect” for the work of the Red Cross, Selectman Drew Hufnagel said he didn’t support funding the agency with tax money.
“We should not be forcing taxpayers to provide funds for an organization they may not feel the same about,” Hufnagel said.
Residents eventually voted to raise and appropriate $2,000 for the Red Cross.
The next article, whether to raise and appropriate $5,000 for Safe Voices, provoked a similar discussion. The agency, formerly known as the Abused Women’s Advocacy Project, was fully funded at $5,000 after Executive Director Jane Morrison presented residents with information regarding clients and services.
A debate about raising and appropriating $1,000 for a pair of local snowmobile clubs, typically a mainstay on many local town meeting warrants, drew some debate about the role of snowmobiles and snowmobile clubs in Farmington. In the end, residents decided to appropriate funds to the clubs.
It was after 9 p.m. before residents began to discuss the proposed wind power performance standard, which was eventually approved. The addition to the zoning ordinance sets in place a permitting procedure for wind projects, regulating setbacks, sound emissions, making provisions for radio signal disturbance and lighting and shadow flicker effect. As the ordinance currently reads, turbines would be required to not exceed a sound pressure level of 60 decibels, with the reading taken from the nearest property line.
Some residents argued that 60 dB was not restrictive enough. Resident Burt Knapp said that while he supported the idea of controlling wind power development locally, he did not support passing the ordinance as written. Knapp spoke to the visual or audible impact of the turbines, saying the ordinance did not provide adequate setbacks.
“We’re not talking about loud noise,” he said at one point. “We’re talking about a persistent, repetitive type of noise.”
Planning board member Tom Eastler and Chair Clayton King countered the board had been working on the performance standards for 18 months and had consulted with a variety of experts in drafting the addition. At the moment, Eastler noted, there was no local wind power regulation.
“What’s the bottom line here? We have no ordinance,” Eastler said, going on to note that “it’s better to have standards, than no standards.”
Residents approved the addition by a significant margin.
Residents also approved having the town apply for a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant for the Brookside Village project. The grant would fund infrastructure improvements, including paved and gravel roads, water and sewer lines and street lights for the first component of the Willow Springs project: a 32-unit apartment building proposed for a lot off the Fairbanks Road.
Only a small number of residents voted in the uncontested elections earlier that day; Selectman Ryan Morgan and Mt. Blue Regional School District school board Director Iris Silverstein were both reelected to three-year terms with 51 votes apiece.