Thorndike residents debate salaries, road budget
Thorndike — Residents in Thorndike made quick work of a 49-article town warrant with the majority of discussion focusing on the roads budget and town officials' salaries.
Approximately 60 residents gathered at the Town Office the morning of Saturday, March 15, where they began the meeting by electing a moderator and several town officials.
When Moderator Don Berry opened discussion on Article 3, which asked residents to raise $38,300 for town officials' salaries — an increase of $1,000 over the previous year —a resident questioned why there was an increase for the first selectman, a position held by Jim Bennett, and suggested that given the economic times, it would be better to not give any increases.
Resident Jeff Trafton, who also served on the budget committee, pointed out that during discussions about the salaries selectmen Larry Hustus and Larry Ward motioned to increase the first selectman's pay and the budget committee approved the increase.
Trafton further noted Bennett has served the town for many years having been reelected for the 14th time that morning, and was working on ways to save taxpayers money, which included trying to keep the Unity Area Regional Recycling Center.
A counterpoint was made that Bennett would be paid more money than officials in other towns in the county. However, the question was then moved after additional brief discussion and residents approved the recommended $38,300 amount.
The next article residents asked for more information about was a request to allow town officials to spend up to $5,000 from undesignated funds for emergency purposes. Residents asked why town officials wanted authorization to spend more than the $2,500 that was requested last year.
First Selectman Jim Bennett explained the town almost needed to tap into the emergency funds this year and the $2,500 amount would not have been adequate. As a result, Bennett said town officials decided to ask to spend up to $5,000 and also explained that the money would not be used unless it was needed.
Residents then voted in favor of the increased emergency spending.
Voters moved quickly through the warrant until articles 31, 32 and 33, which dealt with budget amounts for road maintenance.
First on the list was a $65,000 request for town roads. Several residents suggested the recommended budget amount be increased due to the poor condition of the roads in the town. Another suggestion was also made to focus more heavily on the throughways in Thorndike as opposed to dead-end roads.
Of the $65,00 request, $32,200 would be raised through taxation with $30,000 being appropriated from undesignated funds and $2,800 from Worthy Poor.
Despite the suggestions to increase the budget line item for town roads, no amendments were made to the article and it passed as recommended.
The next item on the warrant was to see what some of the money the town would raise and/or appropriate for capital improvements to town roads. It was recommended that the monies not exceed Urban Rural Initiative Project Funds (URIP), which is now designated by the state as the Local Road Assistance Program (LRAP).
Bennett explained that the LRAP funds limit what the towns can do in terms of road improvement projects. Prior to 1999 the funds could be used for the maintenance and improvement of public roads, according to the Maine Department of Transportation.
However, the funds can now only be used for capital improvements on roads or bridges. The state defines capital improvement as work on a road or bridge that has a life expectancy of at least 10 years or restores the load-carrying capacity.
Bennett agreed that the town needed to do work on its roads, but also pointed out that more and more residents are struggling to pay their taxes. Without the tax dollars coming in, the town cannot do all of the work it would like to, he said.
Residents also approved $125,000 for winter roads with $103,000 coming from excise and $22,00 being raised from taxation.
The meeting adjourned after about 90 minutes of discussion at 11 a.m.
First Selectman, Assessor and Overseer of the Poor — Jim Bennett
Second Selectman, Assessor and Overseer of the Poor —Larry Ward
Third Selectman, Assessor and Overseer of the Poor — Larry Hustus
Road Commissioner — Selectmen
Cemetery Committee — Clyde Rumney
Regional School Unit 3 Representative — Jesse Hargrove
Ben Holbrook is a reporter for The Republican Journal covering general news.
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