Town of Phillips shuts down, 20 workers laid off

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PHILLIPS – Starting tomorrow the town will be forced to shut down, no longer able to provide services to its residents.

This comes after an unexpected and shocking move by residents on Saturday who voted to adjourn the town budget meeting before any municipal spending could be approved for the coming year. The town’s 2008-2009 fiscal year begins July 1 and, as because none of the budget articles were passed, town government here is at a standstill until another town meeting can be scheduled.

Today, a dispirited Town Manager Lynn White, who accepted the job less than two weeks ago, said town government “will be shut down as of tomorrow.”

“Everyone is laid off,” he said. The 20 town employees who work in the highway, fire, municipal and waste management departments will stay home until another town budget meeting can be held. That, if selectmen move quickly, will be at least two weeks away, due to public meeting notification laws.

The sudden adjournment was passed after residents voted not to exceed the tax cap limit set by a state formula. The budget proposed totaled $1.7 million, up from the previous full fiscal year’s budget of $1.55 million. White said the proposed budget’s increase was 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, as the district faces lower and lower state subsidies as enrollment numbers decrease.

The entire budget, if it had passed, would have increased the mil rate from 12.8 to an estimated 16.8.

After an hour of debate at the town’s budget meeting, about 75 residents voted against Article 3, which asks the town to increase the property tax levy limit of $256,076. That number is established through a formula, and the appearance of that article is required by the state’s LD1 law. Similar articles, with different limits, appear on every town meeting warrant.

After LD1 failed to pass, there ensued a short debate about whether the meeting should continue or not. As $256,076 represents less that a quarter of the proposed municipal budget, selectmen and others successfully pressed for an adjournment. This motion was approved, and the meeting ended.

Former town manager Karen Olivieri noted that not approving the municipal budget would not prevent tax bills from going out on the school budget. Town services funded through the municipal budget include ambulance service, the volunteer fire department, solid waste and recycling services and road maintenance and repair, as well as running the town office itself.

Today, White called the Franklin County commissioners to ask for fire protection for both the towns of Phillips and Avon, because Phillips Fire Department provides coverage for Avon. Ambulance service through NorthStar can continue for up tp one month without paying a bill, White said. But all other services will be stopped.

“If a tree falls across the road, someone will have to move it,” White said. He will be volunteering his time starting tomorrow to try and find a resolution.

“At best, it will be a couple of weeks,” he said, if voters approve a budget.

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