PHILLIPS – More than eighty residents gathered at the Phillips Area Community Center Tuesday night for a special town meeting.
Per the first warrant article, Tom Saviello was elected as the moderator for the meeting. Saviello then presented Article Two, which asked the voters if they would increase the size of the select board from three to five members.
Resident and local business owner Chris Hardy spoke on behalf of a group of concerned citizens who asked for this change in a meeting in January. Citing concerns of lack of representation and transparency from the town’s elected officials, a group gathered to find and implement ‘useful, positive ideas’ that would move the town forward. Hardy explained that the purpose of the group was to build up, rather than tear down.
Hardy said that the change could be made with no increase in stipends; similar to a proposal made with regards to the Franklin County Commissioners board expanding from three to five, Hardy said that the town could decide to divide the total funds currently allocated for three board members between five board members.
It was noted that if the town did not increase the allocation for stipends, there would potentially be some increases in workman’s compensation insurance with bringing in two new people.
Select board chair Ray Gaudette presented some figures for towns across Maine. He said that there are 61 municipalities in Maine with a similar population to Phillips, and of those towns, 45 have a select board of three. Town Manager Maureen Haley said that the figures were from Maine Municipal and for towns with a population between 800 and 1,200.
Hardy responded saying there is interest in Phillips, and they live and vote in Phillips, not the other towns.
When asked why the select board opposed the expansion, Gaudette said that he felt the town was healthy; the town has a healthy undesignated fund balance and the board has lowered taxes over the last two years. He said that the town has had a board of three for ‘many many years’ and he felt it has worked well for them.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Gaudette said.
Janet White said she had abstained from voting at a previous meeting when the board agreed to move forward with the process of a town meeting vote, because she had not had time to do her own research into the proposal.
“I’m still confused,” White said. She has spoken with select board members and town managers in other towns with boards of five, and reported that some people said it was great and others said it was awful.
However the voters decided, White said, she would work with it.
Discussion continued around the compensation for select board members and whether the town had enough qualified people to fill five seats, but a motion was made to ‘move the question.’
Moving the question requires a two-thirds vote and would effectively end discussion and put the question to a vote. This motion was approved and Saviello asked for a show of hands vote. The show of hands vote appeared to have a majority, but the select board requested a written ballot vote. A motion had not been made for a written ballot vote but after a brief discussion Saviello asked for such a motion.
The written ballot motion was approved and the residents cast ballots for the original question, which was to expand the select board. A ‘yes’ vote would support the question and expand the board, and a ‘no’ vote would reject it and remain status quo.
The article passed, 51 in favor and 30 opposed.
With the article passing, it will go into effect at the annual town meeting in June. Two additional select board members will be elected at that time, one for a two-year term and one for a three-year term. This will keep the board on a staggered three year term so that in the future no more than two seats will be up for election in any given year. This is similar to other towns that operate with a board of five.
Article Three was presented as well, to increase the contingency fund from $30,000 to $50,000. The contingency fund is available for the select board to cover unanticipated expenses, and $30,000 was approved in the 2022 annual town meeting. Any increase to that sum would have to be approved at a special town meeting. However, the board expended approximately $18,000 in January for the demolition of a collapsed building on Main Street. Town Manager Maureen Haley said they felt it beneficial to ask for an additional $20,000 to replenish that account, given the high costs of fuel, vehicle maintenance, and other operating expenses, since a special town meeting was already taking place.
This article passed by a show of hands vote.