Raise requests, road repair lines keep Swanville voters busy

Residents return Boguen to Board of Selectmen
By Tanya Mitchell | Mar 12, 2014
Photo by: Tanya Mitchell Swanville resident Dan Horton seeks clarification on a warrant article during the annual town meeting at the Nickerson School gymnasium Saturday morning, March 8.

Swanville — Residents swept through a 31-article warrant in about two and a half hours during the annual town meeting Saturday, March 8, with proposed staff salary increases, road repair funding and contributions to local nonprofits generating the heft of discussion.

The meeting was held at the Kermit Nickerson School gymnasium.

In Article 13, voters considered whether to approve compensation for town employees and officials at a total amount of $76,175, a figure that was up from last year's total request of $65,836.

As Moderator Mike Thibodeau called for a motion, a resident moved that the town change all salaries to reflect a four percent increase across the board while also eliminating a $3,200 request for covering the cost of ballot clerks. Selectman Cindy Boguen explained that the ballot clerk funding line was formerly listed as part of the town salaries line, but it had been omitted from that line in recent years.

"It did used to be in there, but it got left off somehow," she said.

Boguen said that funding could be needed this year, especially in light of the fact that it took three elections before residents in the eight Regional School Unit 20 towns approved a school budget last year.

Resident Dan Horton sought clarification, asking whether approving the inclusion of the $3,200 figure in the salaries line would then ensure that line appeared in all future warrants and town records. Boguen confirmed that was the case.

Eventually residents agreed to an amendment to the motion that left the $3,200 line in the salaries portion of the budget while still creating a four-percent salary increase for all positions listed. That motion failed.

Selectman Jeanna Bonin then moved that the town instead keep the salary line the same as it was for the previous year, adding that due to the poor economy she did not feel it was the right time to approve any raises.

Horton said he disagreed with that motion because many of those in attendance had previously made comments about how well the town staff had served the town.

Some in the crowd said they concurred with Bonin's assessment, stating that many of the town's taxpayers had not received significant raises in recent years. Others suggested the town would do well to support its employees, noting that approving pay increases is one way to do that.

The new proposed tax collector salary was $30,000 (up from $25,000), and the recommended town clerk compensation was $9,000 (up from last year's figure of $8,364). The treasurer's salary line showed a proposed figure of $6,500, an increase from last year's total of $5,202.

Town Clerk and Treasurer Helen Christianson explained that she had not had a significant raise in several years, and stated she completes her duties for the town well beyond the hours that the Town Office is open each week.

"I just want to be compensated for my time," she said.

Deputy Town Clerk and Tax Collector Laurie Johnson agreed. Johnson said when she first started in her tax collection role, she used to be paid a small percentage of all taxes that came in for the year, an arrangement that would have given her an estimated annual salary of about $40,000 if she were still compensated in that way. In her first year, which ran from March to November, Johnson was compensated with about $30,000 for that time. Then Johnson's position changed to a salaried post, and her rate of pay hovered at between $23,000 and $25,000 over the last few years.

In addition, Johnson said any town staff member who wanted a raise could have gone before the town budget committee to request one, as she and Christianson did.

After some additional discussion, Bonin's motion to keep salaries at last year's level failed. Residents then approved the original motion to boost compensation for the town clerk, treasurer and tax collector positions and to re-establish the line funding ballot clerks.

Roads were another hot topic in town, and Article 27 asked voters if they would accept the board's recommendation that the town raise $100,000 from taxes and re-appropriate $250,000 from the town's unappropriated funds (formerly referred to as "surplus").

"We don't need that much money," said Selectman Brett Armstrong, who then moved to amend the article to reflect the use of $150,000 from surplus instead of the $250,000 stated in the article.

"Why don't we need this amount of money this year?" asked a resident. "There's a lot of road work that could be done."

Armstrong said the town plans to finish ongoing work on a stretch of Curtis Road this year, and then next year apply a final surface on Curtis Road and start work on Oak Hill Road.

"We're going to have to have a lot of money next year in order to do that," Armstrong said.

Some residents expressed concern about the condition of the remaining roads in town, and questioned why the town shouldn't apply funds toward repairs in those areas, too.

"These roads are falling apart, and our vehicles are falling apart," said a man in the audience.

Armstrong said it cost about $126,000 to complete work on one mile of Curtis Road last year, in addition to another $81,977 in reclaiming costs.

After some more talk about the road needs, Armstrong withdrew his motion to amend the article and voters passed the original motion.

Residents reviewed requests from local nonprofits individually, and after weighing the merits of each organization, residents agreed to contribute a total of $10,699 to the following organizations: Waldo County YMCA, $500; Belfast Free Library, $1,600; Game Loft, $150; Spectrum Generations, $500; Waldo Community Action Partners, $5,419; LifeFlight Foundation, $200; Jackson Food Pantry, $500; Swan lake Association, $1,000 (up from the $800 requested, with some of the funding allocated from excise taxes collected on boat registrations), and New Hope For Women, $850.

In the elections held March 7, residents returned Boguen to the Board of Selectmen, re-elected Christianson to the clerk, treasurer and excise tax collector's posts and chose Clifton Sawyer for a seat on the planning board.

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Tanya Mitchell
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Tanya has been a general news reporter in Waldo County since 1997.

 

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