Engaging in a lively debate with selectmen, residents agreed April 10 to raise a total of $686,510 for 2021 town expenses, a rise of 0.8 percent, or $5,759, from last year's $680,751. The amount to be raised from property tax is $418,335, up by $14,074, or 3.5% from $404,261 last year. These figures do not include the town's share of the budget for the county or Regional School Unit 3.

The hottest issue on the agenda came near the end of the warrant, as residents debated, and eventually passed, a $2 million, 15-year road repair bond, the product of a study by selectmen that was agreed to at last year's town meeting. The discussion got underway with a resident moving to pass over the article in the hope that pending federal infrastructure legislation would contain funds to support the type of work Knox needs to do. "We could save ourselves a ton of money," he said.

Moderator and District 99 State Rep. Mary Anne Kinney, R-Knox, said if the town did get federal funds, the town would not have to sell the bonds, adding that she expects money for infrastructure to be coming to Maine from Washington, D.C. The speaker who wanted to pass over the article replied, asking why the town should pass the bond when federal money could be coming to the town, and the bond issue would boost the town's mill rate.

First Selectman Galen Larrabee interjected, saying he thought the bond was scheduled to be sold in May if it passed, and adding that delay was a bad idea because "the roads need to be fixed now." In addition, he said he thought most of the federal dollars would go to larger urban areas, bypassing small rural towns like Knox.

In answer to a question about how much the $160,000 annual repayment of the bond would increase the mill rate, Larrabee said two or three mills starting in 2022. For 2020, the mill rate was 20.5, and Larrabee told TRJ he expected it to be the same for the coming year.

At one point, Second Selectman Bruce Grass stood and said the road bond was his idea, after he moved back to Maine from Florida and saw how bad all the roads are. "If we continue to do what we're doing, five years from now, the mill rate will have gone up as much as if we did something today," he said. "This is a 20-year project. … I think it's a mistake for us not to do this this year."

He was supported by a resident who said she lived on Aborn Hill Road, and that it was getting worse each year. "But we have a need to have a road that's safe," she said.

Further discussion ensued regarding whether the roads would be posted once they were repaired, to keep large, heavy vehicles from wearing them down again. Larrabee said the problem with posting roads was that it had to be passed at a regular or special town meeting 60 days before the roads were to be posted, and then the posting was only good for six weeks. Grass added that the selectmen were not planning to post the roads, that they wanted to fix them so they would be safe for the town's farmers to drive their equipment on.

The resident who had first asked about posting replied that heavy truck traffic would soon ruin the roads again if they were allowed to use town roads.

Someone else asked what would happen if the cost to repair the town's roads came in above $2 million, and Grass responded that the town would start with the most-used roads and those in the worst shape. "We're going to try to do the best we can with what we have," he said, adding that the cost to fix the roads would only keep going up if it were not done this year.

Different residents expressed reluctance to spend the money without knowing whether their road would be repaired, but selectmen resisted committing to fixing particular roads, with the exception of Old County and Morse roads. After the meeting, Larrabee told The Republican Journal he hopes to fix all the tarred roads in town.

When someone asked when paving had last been done, Larrabee said it was begun in 2003 and finished in 2006.

The motion to pass over the bond article was defeated and the article itself passed.

In other town business, Grass was reelected second selectman, road commissioner, assessor and overseer of the poor for a three-year term with 25 votes and one blank.

Under the article for Town Charges, a resident asked why $20,000 was allocated for TRIO software, when the town had decided at its meeting last August to switch to the cheaper INVISION software from Northern Data. Larrabee replied that INVISION could not be implemented in time to get year-end numbers when they were needed, and subsequently misunderstandings with TRIO had been ironed out, so it was decided to stay with the program.

There was also some confusion over the amount in the town's surplus account, and later the Load Road Assistance Fund. Both Larrabee and Town Clerk Loni-Ann Spaulding explained that they were still trying to account for where a previous employee had put various amounts of money. Voters approved taking a total of $193,175 from surplus, and also agreed to spend $75,000 from the LRA Fund.

Larrabee indicated that the books have been unable to be audited since 2019 because of poor record-keeping. Later in the meeting, Grass told the meeting that although a complete audit had not been done since 2019, the auditor had made an oral report to selectmen that the town's bookkeeping was off by about $6.30.

After the meeting, Larrabee told TRJ the town was starting get a handle on its bookkeeping problem and he expected to have an auditor's report this year. In addition, Spaulding will be receiving online training in the different aspects of her job as clerk, treasurer and tax collector.