Topsham selectmen send $7.8M municipal budget to Town Meeting

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TOPSHAM — The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday approved warrant articles for next month’s Town Meeting, including the items that comprise the board’s recommended fiscal 2010 municipal budget.

Residents will vote line by line on individual budget items, as well as on several road acceptances and ordinance changes. Town Meeting will be held at Mt. Ararat High School at 7 p.m. on May 20.

The board is recommending a municipal budget of $7.8 million, about $160,000 more than the fiscal 2009 municipal budget and about $4,700 more than the Finance Committee’s recommendation for fiscal 2010.

The Board of Selectmen recommend the following amounts in the municipal budget:

• $1.4 million for debt service.

• $2.7 million for general government.

• $369,000 for the capital projects fund.

• $1.8 million for public safety.

• $1.5 million for public works, solid waste and recycling.

Included in the contractual services line under general government is a proposed $60,000 expenditure to fund an engineering study at Bay Park. That area of town has been plagued by major drainage issues, and the first phase of the project to address that issue includes engineering design work. Town officials expect this portion of the project to firm up costs for further work, money for which may be borrowed.

The second phase, as discussed by Town Manager Jim Ashe and Public Works Director Rob Pontau, could see drainage along Hunter Lane to Foster Brook, providing that the town can obtain a necessary easement for the work. The cost is currently estimated to be $350,000, and the work could occur during 2010-2011.

Two further phases, consisting of drainage pipe replacement on Goldeneye Drive, Merganser Lane, Loon Drive and Eider Lane, could take place from 2011-2013.

One article the Board of Selectmen opted not to include on the warrant involves a federal Community Oriented Policing Services grant. The grant would fund the salary and benefits of up to two entry-level patrolmen for three years, while the town would have to fund the fourth year.

The article asked voters whether they would accept any awarded funds and to support the town’s obligation to pay the salary and benefits for the patrolmen in year four, or about $140,000. Selectmen discussed whether there was a way to make that article easily amendable, in case residents preferred only one new patrolman or none at all.

With questions remaining on how flexible that article would be, and since it will still be unknown by Town Meeting whether the town has received the grant at all, the board opted to remove the article from the warrant and take it up at a future special Town Meeting.

Selectman Michelle Derr cautioned that if taxes continue to rise, “we could all of us have a very difficult job selling our houses, because people look very carefully at property taxes in a town before they decide to move and buy. A lot of people came to Topsham because property taxes were low, and that’s not the case anymore.”

Selectman Sandra Consolini nodded to the old adage that you can’t have your cake and eat it too, reflecting on the challenge of maintaining the town’s services and paying for improvements such as road work in light of rising costs.

“You have to take one or the other,” she said. “There has to come a point where townspeople have to say if they want this stuff that we need, then they’re going to have to pay for it. … You can’t have all these services and all this extra stuff that we need and not have your taxes raised. … You have to get rid of a luxury to get your needs.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or