PHILLIPS – Voters overwhelmingly decided on Saturday to reopen their town for business.
Five times the number of voters were presented with the identical 2008-2009 budget today that 30 residents had refused to vote on at the June 28 town budget meeting after the question of raising more than the state tax cap formula recommended was shot down and the motion to adjourn was passed.
Residents concerned with a variety of issues, from the timing of the budget report to the availability of information to the projected tax increase of 4 mil, voted against Article 3 at the June 28 meeting. That article asked voters to allow the town to appropriate more than the property tax levy limit of $256,076, an amount established through a formula and required by the state’s LD1 law.
The difference this time around was the experience of not having town services for two weeks, more detailed accounting explanations included with the warrant, a re-calculation of the LD1 law and the more than 170 residents who crowded into the old gym on Depot Street. Previously, the new Town Manager Lynn White used the five-month budget, passed in April to move the town fiscally in line with the MSAD 58 budget, to calculate the LD1 total. After residents voted to not exceed $256,076, which represents less than a quarter of the proposed, full-year municipal budget, selectmen and others successfully pressed for an adjournment. This motion was approved, and the meeting ended.
The budget proposal totals $1.7 million, up from the previous full fiscal year’s budget of $1.55 million. The increase was chiefly due to the $692,000 MSAD 58 allotment, which was already approved earlier this month. The MSAD 58 budget was up by an additional $117,000 this fiscal year.
For this budget meeting, White used the 2007 budget of $1.55 million to recalculate the LD1 formula for a total limit of $893,526.21. But, not taking any chances, Article 2 was inserted before LD1, which asked that one month’s worth of town expenses be authorized to be spent, in case the LD1 question were to fail again.
Lauri Silbulkin of Phillips, made an amendment to put the LD1 question at the end of the warrant, after all of the budget articles could be debated.
“So then we’ll know what sense to make of the budget,” Silbulkin said. “We don’t want to shut down the town again.” More spoke in favor of keeping LD1 where it is.
“It doesn’t matter when we vote on this,” Dain Trafton said. “It doesn’t bind us to anything. We decide the budget.” That attempt to move the article to the end of the warrant failed to get the two-thirds majority needed. After more discussion, a written ballot was held which revealed 117 voters said yes to exceeding the tax limit while 23 said no.
Once passed, voters questioned everything and made an amendment or two along the way to the 51-article town warrant. Among the changes were holding a public auction instead of allowing selectmen to sell, in a bidding process, property acquired when taxes aren’t paid and voters lowered the penalty for late tax payments to 8 percent a year.
There was an attempt to cut the $123,156 article that included salaries of town officials and office supplies by $23,000. Some questioned the office assistant raise of $5,121.22, but it was explained that clerk and town’s tax collector, Elaine Hubbard has picked up much of the town manager’s duties during the transition period.
“Understand, the town manager has stepped into a hornet’s nest here. We couldn’t have done it without her,” Selectman Eric Kinney said. Selectman Jon Wilbur, Sr., pointed out that White had put in 70 hours of volunteer work since the town shut down two weeks ago to put together the more detailed warrant and to find answers for the town’s fire, road, transfer station coverage.
The biggest single ticket item which totals nearly half the budget without the schools factored in – roads -caused a lot of discussion about how bad they are and how the highway department’s priorities aren’t in keeping with what’s needed.
“The roads are our main complaint,” Kinney said. A road committee was suggested to oversee the town’s 43 miles of road plans and needs, which selectmen said they would look into forming. Voters approved spending the $441,859 requested for road maintenance and repair of roads. White said at this point he hopes he can get the work completed since it’s relatively late in the summer to be starting projects now that the money has been approved.
The neighboring town of Avon was thanked several times for its help in keeping the transfer station open and allowing motorists to register their vehicles when Phillips was shut down.
Longtime literacy volunteer Nana Haines was honored with a standing ovation after state Rep. Tom Saviello presented her with a legislative sentiment which recalled her years of reading help.
Phillips voters have their say at the Phillips town budget meeting Saturday. This time around, the budget passed and the town is up and running again.