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Town Meeting OKs budget, 6.5% tax increase in Topsham

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Town Meeting OKs budget, 6.5% tax increase in Topsham

TOPSHAM — Voters approved an $8.14 million municipal budget Wednesday at Town Meeting.

They slashed more than $150,000 in spending and approved a tax increase of nearly 6.5 percent.

The approximately four-hour meeting at Mt. Ararat High School drew 246 of the town's more than 6,800 registered voters.

The initial $8.29 million budget, recommended by the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee, was about $450,000 larger than the current $7.84 million budget. Estimated school and county budgets had contributed to a projected property tax rate increase from the current $13.80 per $1,000 of valuation to $14.84, a rise of 7.5 percent.

Selectman Donald Russell pointed out early in Wednesday’s meeting that the town’s cost-saving measures included employees foregoing salary increases and merit pay opportunities. But many residents, citing hard economic times and the difficulty of paying increasing taxes, called for cuts in capital projects.

Opting to vote on each expenditure in that fund, they eliminated $140,000 proposed for a public works plow truck and cut $10,500 from a $30,500 proposal to replace a Fire Department service vehicle. Those cuts reduced the spending plan to $8.14 million, and also brought the overall tax rate down to $14.69, an increase of nearly 6.5 percent.

A $200,000 road construction expense, along with $123,000 for the first phase of the Bay Park drainage improvement project and two police vehicle replacements totaling $52,000, were among capital projects that survived.

Voters defeated ordinance changes involving electronic message centers and domesticated chickens. The former would have allowed digital signs along Route 196 and Topsham Fair Mall Road.

“We’re just finding a way to cram all kinds of information into a small space,” resident Elizabeth Armstrong said. “Passing this would be a blight on Topsham’s landscape, and I think we should defeat it.”

The chicken ordinance was intended to allow residents to keep a small number of hens while limiting the possible impact on neighbors.

Voters also approved a 180-day moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, allowing the town time to build a local ordinance.

They supported ordinance amendments concerning a proposed code of conduct and code changes involving Town Meeting, and they favored amending the Comprehensive Plan by adopting a natural areas plan for the town.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.