Whether to dedicate funds to provide children’s swimming lessons and the manner in which funds are appropriated for social service agencies dominated discussion at the 2010 annual town meeting.

About 60 people attended the meeting, which was held March 27 at Walker Memorial School. It lasted three hours, which is the shortest on record, according to Selectwoman Judith Fuller.

After taking estimated revenues into account, the town approved a $251,920 budget, which is up about $33,400 from the current year.

Fuller said she anticipates the tax rate will be between $13.40 and $13.70 per $1,000 of assessed property. Currently the tax rate is $12.80. However, Fuller said, those numbers are dependent on the Maine School Administrative District 3 budget, which has yet to be approved. The town paid $928,177 to the district for 2009-2010.

Selectmen had recommended not to provide children’s swimming lessons this summer at Stevens Pond because the town recently learned that insurance requires a permit to provide the lessons and they must be provided by a licensed water safety instructor. In the past, the recreation director has provided lessons.

The board asked the town to hold off on the lessons for one year to give the board a chance to look into the issue. In past years, the towns of Liberty and Montville have each put $200 toward the account, but Montville did not put the question before voters this year.

Residents balked at the decision and ultimately decided to approve the entire $400.

Approximately 30 children in Liberty and Montville took swimming lessons in 2009 and it is considered a “community gathering for all local families,” one resident said.

“How could you spend your money any better?” another resident questioned.

Townspeople also voted to set aside $250 for the Waldo County YMCA. Last year, the Y provided $234 in scholarships to Liberty residents.

A long discussion ensued concerning the way funds are dedicated for social service agencies.

Selectmen recommended spending $7,000 to support six different agencies after receiving requests from 20 agencies requesting a total of $19,501.

Selectmen said that in the coming year they plan to put a more formal process in place that would require the individual agencies to indicate how their services directly benefit Liberty residents.

An amendment was made to the article to spend $9,000.

“It would be $1.50 on a $1,000 tax bill,” said a town official, to add the extra $2,000 to the account.

Resident Sarason Liebler questioned if it was the job of the town or of individuals to support the agencies.

“A charitable donation should come from the good intent of the people,” he said.

Liebler said putting a space on tax bills so residents can donate to the agencies they wish was a better way to support the groups.

“I don’t think the taxing authority of the town should decide how much,” he said.

Selectman John Krueger said he contacted the towns of Hope and Rockport, which have moved to a similar approach, and both select boards reported they were not receiving as much in donations as when support of social service agencies was a part of the budget. Krueger questioned how one could ask a person who has difficulty supporting themselves as it is to come up with a donation.

Ultimately residents voted to spend $9,000 and left it up to selectmen and the budget committee to decide where to allocate the funds.

Steve Chapin of Liberty Volunteer Ambulance spoke to the crowd about the extreme need for volunteers. He said a majority of the calls are handled by three people, whose average age is 64 years old, the oldest being 82.

“The only reason this service exists is because people put in the time,” he said, noting that the ambulance service will pay for training for anyone interested.

Training for a basic emergency medical technician, which is the minimum training needed to work on an ambulance, takes about three months.

Townspeople voted to spend $4,000 to support the ambulance service. Montville also allocates funds to the service.

Other larger accounts approved were:
• Town Administration — $88,744, down $1,755
• Highways — $243,900, down $21,100; residents voted not to set aside any money for paving ($30,000 set aside in 2009)
• Fire department — $42,000, down $6,000

Fuller was given the Community Service Award and a Liberty silver dollar for serving 10 years as first selectman. She received a standing ovation.

However, Fuller will not go far, as earlier in the meeting she was elected to serve the remaining year of the third selectman seat held by Kyle Wright. Wright was elected first selectman.

Town Clerk and Tax Collector Bud Steeves was re-elected, as were Treasurer Betsey Davis, Fire Chief Bill Gillespie, Road Commissioner Tammy Reynolds and MSAD 3 representative Kathy Eickenberg.

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