News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, February 9, 2017
Budget, warrant takes shape in Stonington ahead of town meeting

by Rich Hewitt

Selectmen on Monday trimmed an additional $7,000 from the 2017 municipal budget, but taxpayers could still see an almost $20,000 budget increase when they get to town meeting.

That $20,000 represents the amount requested in a petitioned warrant article that would help to fund opioid and heroin abuse education in the schools and treatment and recovery programs on the island. The same request will appear on the Deer Isle town meeting warrant and the effort would be matched by privately raised funds and result in a reallocation of funds in the education budget. The funds were included in the budget in the event that voters at town meeting approve the expenditure.

The budget the selectmen adopted on February 6 totals $1,620,673, an increase of $19,682 over the 2016 town budget. The selectmen have worked over the past several weeks to whittle the budget, and Selectman John Robbins pressed the board to make additional cuts to ease the impact on taxpayers. He proposed cutting $7,000 to bring the budget figure down to the $1,613,673.

“We can find $7,000 somewhere,” he said. “That would give us a flat budget except for that $20,000.”

Selectman Evelyn Duncan recommended taking the $7,000 from the salt and sand line in the winter roads account, noting that this has been a mild winter.

“It’s already February and we’ve only had one major storm; we haven’t had to use much sand,” Duncan said. “If you do that, you’re flat, unless they approve that $20,000.”

Selectman Donna Brewer agreed with the move.

“I think it would be appropriate,” she said.

Selectmen Chris Betts and Chairman Richard Larrabee also agreed and the board unanimously removed the $7,000 from the budget.

The $20,000 drug program request came up again when selectmen reviewed the articles for the town meeting warrant. Duncan questioned the wording of the article which asks “what sum of money the town will vote to raise or appropriate in order to match a similar amount from the town of Deer Isle, privately raised money, and reallocations within the CSD #13 budget…” for the drug education and treatment program. Duncan argued that the wording made it sound as if Deer Isle already had approved the funds.

Betts said the wording left the issue open for the town.

“If Deer Isle doesn’t raise it, then we don’t have to raise it,” he said. “It says ‘to match…’ if they vote zero, then we can match that.”

Town Manager Kathleen Billings said it was pointless to argue since the article came by way of a petition. The town has to use the wording presented to it in the petition, she said.

“That’s the way it was turned in,” she said. “It’s up to the voters to decide.”

Although the selectmen managed to keep overall town spending at the same level as last year, the cuts they made over the past few weeks offset increases in several accounts.

“We’ve had some increases, but we’ve been able to cut some areas as well,” Billings said.

Increases in health insurance and salary increases for town office employees accounted for more than $26,000 in increases in those budget lines. The transfer station account rose to $288,525, an increase of $25,525. Almost all of that increase came in just three lines: tipping fees at PERC, up $10,000; transportation, up $5,000; and transfer station wages, up $10,100.

The budget also includes $6,000, taken from the town’s rainy day fund, to enforce the town’s parking ordinance as recommended in the Parking Committee report. The fate of that article could decide what, if any, changes the selectmen make to the parking ordinance.

“If they [voters] say no, there’s not much sense in changing the parking ordinance,” Robbins said.

Parking committee members last year had stressed that enforcement of new and existing parking rules was a key to the success of its plan.

Offsetting those increases are decreases in: the road maintenance budget, down $27,500; public works, down $7,500; town hall, down $4,500.

The budget also recommends drawing $330,000 from the town’s surplus to fund major capital projects. The largest sum, $200,000 would fund improvements at the transfer station, including a new compactor along with the electrical and concrete work and a new building to cover it; repairs and upgrades to the existing, 25-year-old compactor; and a new plastics baler for the recycling building.

The budget also recommends taking $100,000 from surplus for Main Street sidewalk and drainage improvements under Route 15 from Thurlow’s Hill to Hagen Dock. It also includes $30,000 from surplus for shingling and roof repairs at the town hall.

The selectmen also agreed on Monday to include on the town meeting warrant a proposed moratorium ordinance on retail marijuana establishments and retail marijuana social clubs. The moratorium, along with the state’s moratorium on retail sales, would give the town time to establish its own local rules governing where those types of shops could or could not operate.