North Yarmouth voters ratify nearly 8.7% budget hike

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NORTH YARMOUTH — Town Meeting on April 8 approved a $2.6 million municipal budget for fiscal 2018.

Voters also enacted regulations governing domestic animals at town parks, and launched a senior property tax assistance program.

The 3 1/2-hour meeting drew 94 voters – roughly 3 percent of those registered.

The budget is an 8.65 percent increase over current spending. The projected new tax rate is $18.64 per $1,000 of property valuation, which includes town expenses and potential county and school assessments – a $1.02 increase.

Taxes on a home assessed at $350,000 could be more than $6,500 next year.

Much discussion Saturday centered around budget items that had different recommendations from the Budget Committee and the Board of Selectmen – now called the Select Board after ordinance changes made at the meeting.

Whereas the Select Board called for spending about $416,000 on municipal administration, the Budget Committee recommended nearly $439,000, with the approximately $22,000 difference to pay for a part-time administrative assistant for Town Manager Rosemary Roy.

In moving to amend the proposal, Budget Committee member Kevin Desmond said “the highest-paid town employee should not be spending time putting together administrative materials, binders.” He said such tasks take Roy “away from doing things that will have an impact on driving this town forward into the future.”

Selectman Alex Carr said board members had to make risk/benefit decisions on that and other expenditures on the meeting warrant. The board asked Roy to take another look at her proposed budget, and she ultimately removed the position, Carr said.

Agreeing with the Budget Committee’s recommendation, Selectman Jean Chadbourne said, “the nitty gritty little things that (Roy) is doing does not spell town manager to me.”

Voters approved the increased budget item.

The public safety budget line had a nearly $369,000 recommendation from the Select Board, whereas the Budget Committee called for spending an extra $2,500 to fund “the full allowance requested for per diem coverage for the Fire Rescue Chief when he is obligated to participate in out of town duties and in matters of personal time-off,” according to the warrant.

Budget Committee member Bill Whitten moved to amend the item to include the extra money. “With the new state regulations … the chief has to go out and go to training as a requirement of this position,” he said. “When that happens, then he’s out of town, and there is really nobody to cover (him).”

Fire-Rescue Chief Greg Payson noted that while there are people around to cover when he is out of town, during daytime hours most people are working outside of North Yarmouth.

“I’m very fortunate enough to have a lot of retired folks who can drive for us in the daytime, but I don’t necessarily have a qualified firefighter or (emergency medical technician) in town,” he said, adding that the position “puts that qualified firefighter and EMT in the station.”

The amended motion passed.

In another warrant item with differing recommendations – the Public Works budget – the Select Board called for spending about $692,000, which would add a laborer to that department for about $31,000. The Budget Committee favored spending about $664,000, which would leave out the position, but add an extra $3,000 to seal cracked roads.

A vote to amend the Select Board’s original proposal failed by a show-of-hands vote of 39-36.

Park pet rules, tax breaks

Along with approving the municipal budget, voters also enacted regulations governing domestic animals at town parks, and launched a senior property tax assistance program.

Pet-related commercial businesses, and other outside groups, would have to obtain permission from Roy to access the public land and pay an undetermined fee.

The town has received complaints about professional dog-walkers with groups of dogs creating issues for other people who are walking, or riding a bicycle or horse, “especially if the dogs aren’t on leashes,” Roy said last month.

Every domestic animal “must be under the control of owners, leash, harness or immediate voice recall,” the new language states.

Issues between citizens can be worked out among themselves, but disputes can also be referred to the animal control officer or Roy. Users would be required to leash or harness the animal if another user requests it, and all users must clean up after their pets.

The town will draw $50,000 from its undesignated fund balance of approximately $1.4 million to start the senior property tax assistance program, which it has not funded since fiscal year 2014. The state abolished the Circuit Breaker program; Cumberland created its own version of the initiative last year.

The program will give those who qualify a $1,000 credit, or discount, on their annual tax bill. Eligible applicants must have a total household income of $45,000 or less, be at least 70 years old, and have lived in town for 10 years and in the house for at least a year.

Residents can learn more by calling Roy at 829-3705 or emailing manager@northyarmouth.org. The deadline to apply is June 30.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Dianne Morrison, left, smiles after giving North Yarmouth Assistant Town Manager Debbie Grover a flower at Town Meeting April 8. Residents presented Grover with flowers after she was recognized for 30 years of town service.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.