By Bill Pearson, Piscataquis Observer: DEXTER, Maine — The Town Council agreed on 99.5 percent of the proposed $5,291,973 municipal budget on July 12, but the package failed to pass due to a disagreement over $27,800. The council deadlocked 3-3 on the budget, which is $95,255 more than last year's and reduces the mill rate from 15.5 to 15.3.
This is the first budget proposed by Town Manager Linda-Jean Briggs, and she described it as being both "reasonable and responsible." She indicated the increased spending would allow the town to move forward in building a stronger community.
"All six councilors agree on 99.5 percent of the expenditures I've suggested," Briggs said. "What you'll hear later is that three councilors want to reduce the budget by the remaining 0.5 percent. To which I say, 'Is it really worth it?'"
Councilors Steve Gudroe, Rick Goodwin and Missy Smith voted against the budget after an amendment failed that would have reduced spending in four areas totaling $27,800. At a July 9 workshop, four councilors favored the proposed cuts. Councilor Dave Clukey was the other member who favored reducing the proposed budget, but he was unable to attend the meeting due to a medical procedure.
Gudroe suggested amending the proposed budget by reducing the cemetery account by $2,800, reserve account by $10,000, firetruck contribution account by $10,000 and continuing education account by $5,000. He indicated that these accounts didn't need to be funded at the same level as previous years.
He also believed previous budgets passed by the council had placed a burden on homeowners. The town placed 198 tax liens in 2009. When Gudroe was a first-year councilor in 2010, 218 tax liens were levied and another 228 in 2011.
"We are right at the edge where we can push the taxpayer. There are no logical reasons for spending for an educational fund of $10,000 when it is normally $600," Gudroe said. "We also need to rethink our firetruck replacement plan. There is no way we can replace or refurbish three trucks in a five-year span."
The three councilors who voted against the proposed budget disagreed with expanding the sexton's hours, appropriating $50,000 for the firetruck reserve account when they believed only $40,000 was necessary, and funding the continuing education account at $10,000.
The opposing councilors agreed that the proposed budget would reduce the mill rate, but they believed that municipal spending was being offset by a one-time revenue source resulting from the $205,000 received from the sale of the former primary middle school property and savings resulting from not heating the building next year.
The opposition thought the proposal would set the budget baseline at too high a mark for the taxpayers to pay for future budgets. Smith explained that her decision came after serious consideration how the budget would affect future ones.
"I just wanted to assure the public I didn't take this decision lightly," she said. "The cuts decided on Monday night are needed. The cuts may seem miniscule, but they are needed to reduce the budget."
Briggs had proposed an additional $2,800 paid to the sexton for transferring the town's cemetery records from paper to electronic during the winter. She characterized the three dissenting councilors as being "shortsighted" in their decision.
"The $2,800 is not only ridiculous, but may I suggest it may be personal," Briggs said.
The council will have another opportunity to pass the 2012-13 municipal budget at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 9, in the council chambers. Town officials weren't sure if Clukey will be able to attend the meeting.
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