MMA loans

New Sharon voters approve $1.18 million budget

Catelyn Nichols casts her ballot for the New Sharon Town Meeting Referendum while Melissa LeTarte, Deputy Town Clerk and Town Meeting Moderator oversees at the New Sharon Town Office Saturday, March 5. The 2022 New Sharon Town Meeting was held by secret ballot referendum due to the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. Several articles were narrowly avoided as a number of townspeople rejected all articles on the mandate as they were upset with the format of the meeting, wanting an in-person meeting. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

NEW SHARON — New Sharon voters approved the city’s $1.18 million municipal budget for 2022-23 at the annual municipal meeting, held by referendum vote on Saturday, March 5.

A total of 189 ballots were cast in the town assembly referendum, which town clerk Pamela Adams said was a higher turnout than in recent years.

Voters approved 23 mandates and rejected two.

The rejected articles involve increases to the property tax levy limit and the power to “dispose of personal property belonging to the city…as (elected officials) deem desirable.”

Two officials were also elected: outgoing elected official Paula Nason and outgoing water district administrator chairman David Dill.

Voters approved all items regarding the municipal budget, which is expected to cost taxpayers up to $1.068 million, a decrease of $9,909 from what was collected for 2021-2022, due to the implement money from the unrestricted fund balance.

Board chair Lorna Nichols and treasurer Erin Norton said the majority of the biggest increases in budget items were due to rising costs and inflation.

Although the budget items were approved, the vote was close on a number of items — budget and beyond. Section 9 for administrative costs passed 97-87, with five blanks.

Another article to “authorize Selectmen on behalf of the city to negotiate temporary loans” passed by a single vote – 93-92.

Adams said “there usually isn’t such a close call to vote.”

The close call is likely due to a movement in town to dismiss all articles on the warrant. The “Vote No” movement came from townspeople upset by the select council’s choice to hold the municipal assembly by referendum vote rather than by in-person vote.

At the polls, many voters said they rejected the entire mandate to favor the need for a special town meeting, where residents could discuss and change the articles in person. Other voters said they rejected more than a handful of articles, but not all, for similar reasons.

Residents said they felt a referendum vote stifled their voice and gave too much power to the board.

The select committee chose to hold the 2022 municipal assembly by referendum due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The town hall is normally held at Cape Cod Hill School in Regional Academic Unit 9, which had a mask mandate just lifted at the RSU 9 Board meeting on Tuesday, March 8.

Coach Travis Pond told the Franklin Journal that the Maine Municipal Association (MMA) said it was unconstitutional to require individuals to wear masks to vote, which is why they chose to hold the meeting by referendum vote.

According to Kate Dufour, MMA’s director of state and federal relations, it’s not that requiring someone to wear a mask is unconstitutional, but that MMA’s “concern is with denying someone the right to vote.” if he refuses to hide.

Pond said the board was recently told by Cape Cod Hill school officials that the school could host the meeting without a masking requirement. But because mail-in ballots had already been sent out and a number had been handed out, the council could not reverse the decision and hold an in-person meeting.

Section 18 to “authorize elected officials to dispose of personal property belonging to the city, on such terms and conditions as they deem desirable” was rejected by voters with 106 no, 76 yes and five blank ballots.

Days before the vote, Darlene Power, a member of the historic committee, raised concerns that the board was planning to get rid of artifacts from the historic city.

Power’s evidence for this suspicion came from how the council handled the use of the New Sharon Shay (a carriage-sleigh hybrid) now in the possession of the Franklin County Agricultural Society at the Farmington Fairgrounds.

Power said the Shay was mishandled and could point to how the board, particularly Nichols, plans to dispose of other historic artifacts in the city.

Power did not provide further evidence of this concern.

At the New Sharon Board of Selectmen’s meeting last Wednesday, elected officials passed a motion that prohibits the board from “(disposing of) any personal property belonging to the city until the next annual or special meeting of the city where ( section 18) may be further defined by the legislative body”.

Pond also raised a motion to hold a special town meeting to repossess the Shay. The motion was tabled while Power and the historical committee were discussing the idea.

Still, Power and other residents felt it was important that the mandate be discussed in person with dialogue between townspeople and the select committee.

Power promoted the “Vote No” movement by protesting with historical committee member Deborah Rose on the road to the New Sharon city office on Friday and Saturday. Power was also encouraging voters to write on his behalf for the open seat on the board. She received 34 write-in votes.

Power and Rose protested in duck and bulldog costumes, respectively, to signify that there are “sitting ducks” on the selection board and that they serve as the city’s “watchdogs.”

Section 3 to “permanently increase the property tax levy limit of $691,522 established for the City of New Sharon by state law in the event that the municipal budget, approved under the following sections, would result in a tax liability that would exceed the property tax levy cap” was also rejected.

Other non-budget items passed by voters include authority to spend the city’s $149,437 in American Rescue Plan Act funds and an amendment to the fire department ordinance that lowers the age minimum of junior firefighters 18 to 16 years old.

The terms of reference list projects, expenses that will be funded by ARPA to include one year of Zoom fees for remote meeting access, a water pressure pump for the city office and fire station, a generator for the city office, heat pumps for the Jim Ditzler Library, and display cases for the “preservation and protection” of historical objects in the city.

The article gives the municipality the authorization to spend the entire ARPA grant. Nichols said the projects listed are likely to use the majority of funds.

It is unclear at this time how the council will move forward with the rejection of Articles 3 and 18. After multiple requests, the Franklin Journal could not reach Nichols for comment on the matter at the time of publication. .

Other expenses approved by voters include:

• $531,443 for the Public Works Department.

• $277,570 for administration and operating costs, such as salaries of municipal officials and agents, Parks and Recreation Department, cemetery mowing and more.

• $131,335 for public security operations.

• $114,000 for solid waste disposal and curbside collection.

• $34,694 for the operation of the Jim Ditzler Memorial Library (a 10.5% increase of $3,297 over the 2021-2022 budget).

• $21,500 for insurance and workers’ compensation (a 13.15% increase of $2,500 over the 2021-22 budget).

• $11,500 for the City’s Social Security portion (a 9.52% increase of $1,000 from 2021-22).

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