Topsham voters approve $8.1M town budget

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TOPSHAM — Voters approved next year’s $8.1 million municipal budget at Town Meeting Wednesday evening.

The 50-minute meeting, held at Mt. Ararat High School, drew 251 registered voters and ended with a round of applause.

The fiscal 2013 spending plan is up slightly more than 1.8 percent from the current year. Town Manager Cornell Knight attributed the increase to the town funding new debt for a Fire Department ladder truck and a Public Works Department plow truck, and to its funding of nighttime rescue coverage.

With potential school and county assessments included, Topsham’s tax rate is due to increase from the current $16.15 per $1,000 of property valuation to $16.22. This increase would add $21 to the yearly tax bill of a home worth $300,000.

Overall expenses will fall from $18.6 million to $18.5 million, but a drop in revenues from $3.6 million to $3.46 million has caused a net increase in the amount to be assessed in taxes, from $15.02 million to $15.09 million.

Residents voted on elements of next year’s spending plan individually. They approved $1.5 million for debt service; $2.6 million for general government; nearly $424,000 for the capital projects fund; $2 million for public safety, and $1.4 million for public works, solid waste and recycling.

About $706,000 had been proposed for fire protection and rescue, on the public safety line. That hike from about $638,000 in fiscal 2012 included funding for overnight rescue coverage beginning Oct. 1.

But both the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee voted last month to raise the allocation to nearly $728,000, which allows nighttime per diem coverage to instead begin July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

The board approved the increase 3-2, with Selectmen David Douglass and Ronald Riendeau opposed.

Voters approved the public safety line Wednesday with the additional funds included. No one spoke in opposition to the added money.

“It’s an article that I wish and hope passes, because it’s very much needed,” said Donald Russell, chairman of the Board of Selectmen. He noted that some people have thought that if they call for an ambulance in the middle of the night, they will receive just as quick a response as during the day.

“That is not the case in the last couple of years, because the on-call people have to report to the station before they leave (for the caller’s home),” which about doubles their response time, Russell said.

A group from the Highland Green retirement community had asked the town to fund the overnight rescue coverage. There has been staff on call during the night, but the group asked for two people to be at the Fire-Rescue station during that time, to improve response times.

Voters also approved several proposed ordinance changes governing dog control, signs, and the historic overlay district.

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

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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.