Freedom residents set aside $17,000 at their annual town meeting March 13 to work on audits dating to 2006. The town had fallen behind on its audits in recent years, but the accounting gap became especially evident in 2009 as residents tried to calculate the potential costs and benefits of a new, $10 million wind turbine development.

The two warrant articles devoted to the issue singled out the 2006 and 2007 audits for work during the coming year. Residents agreed to pay the town clerk $1,500 per audit and the town treasurer $2,000 per audit and give the selectmen authority to pay a “qualified person” up to $10,000 to work 25 hours per week on the prior audits.

The words “qualified person” led Alyssa Widoff to request that the warrant article indicate a certified public accountant. Several other residents also wanted someone with official certification to make sure the work was done correctly.

“If that’s what people want, I would recommend, where the $10,000 is, we put 50 [thousand dollars],” said Selectman Ronald Price, who was re-elected to the Board March 12.

A lengthy discussion ensued, but the amendment was ultimately voted down, leaving the Select Board to determine what qualifications the person should possess.

Asked if the two years’ worth of audits could be completed with that amount of money and time, Price said the selectmen had estimated that the 2006 and 2007 audits could be completed this year, but he couldn’t say for sure.

“You’re talking about four years of audits. That’s why this is such a big problem,” he said. “… We don’t even have the same treasurer.”

A warrant item that would have done away with $1-per-bag trash stickers was passed over. Asked for an explanation of the request, Price said there was some concern that certain residents couldn’t afford the stickers. Other towns, including Albion, cover the cost of garbage disposal by raising the money in taxes, he said. Revenue from trash stickers was just over $12,000 last year.

Moderator Donald Berry, a veteran on the town meeting circuit and a former legislator, later described the act of passing over a warrant article as a “Maine thing,” noting that he was unaware of its use in other parts of the country. Typically, residents pass over an article when they want to forgo debate, he said, but doing so has the same effect as voting the article down.

The trash sticker question, and several other lines having to do with waste disposal, drew questions from several residents who were unaware of the town’s once-a-month recycling pickups. This year’s warrant came with a pamphlet from the Unity Area Regional Recycling Center indicating which materials could be recycled.

Resident Doug Van Horn commended the pamphlet designer for making the criteria comprehensible and encouraged residents to use the program. Selectwoman Carol Richardson referred to another town that she said had dropped its cost for solid waste removal by $9,000 because residents began recycling more.

Fire Chief James Waterman was asked to account for a $225,000 proposed expenditure for a new pumper truck, which former Selectman Tim Biggs noted would come at a cost of [roughly] $350 per resident. Waterman said Freedom is currently borrowing a pumper truck from Montville to replace the truck that lost its transmission last November while fighting the fire that consumed the Liberty Trading Post. The expenditure was ultimately approved.

Residents said the Select Board should continue to perform the duties of the road commissioner. Freedom dissolved the $17,000 road commissioner position last year, giving oversight of the town’s roads to the Select Board. Each Board member was given a $1,000 stipend. Clint Spaulding, road commissioner prior to the change, was elected to the Select Board last year.

Freedom Field Days was written out of the Parks and Recreation budget this year. Last year the town spent $1,500 on the event. Town Clerk Cynthia Abbott said the town would have a parade and some small events at the Town Office, but funding for Field Days, if it is to happen this year, would have to come from elsewhere.

As noon approached, the desire among those in attendance to complete the warrant before lunch was palpable — last year’s meeting was a marathon six hours — and Berry played to the sentiment, moving quickly through articles related to funding social service agencies, accepting municipal revenue-sharing, selling surplus equipment, rolling over miscellaneous accounts and allowing prepayment of taxes.

An article that would allow the Select Board to negotiate with residents in foreclosure drew some criticism for imposing a 7-percent penalty on payments received 60 days after commitment date. Richardson said the town imposed a 9-percent charge last year, and she cautioned that dropping the fee too much could work against the town. “If you put it too low, they’re going to pay their credit cards and we’re not going to get our tax money,” she said.

Freedom town elections were held March 12. Ronald Price was re-elected selectman, assessor and overseer of the poor. Price beat out write-in candidate Frances Walker by a margin of 121 to 80. Cynthia Abbott was re-elected town clerk, tax collector and excise tax collector. And Ernestine Keller was re-elected town treasurer.

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