Higgins elected selectman, Brugger treasurer in Freedom

By Fran Gonzalez | Mar 16, 2020
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez From left, Selectman Ron Price, outgoing Selectman Brian Jones, Selectmen Elaine Higgins and Stephen Bennett present Frances Walker with the Spirit of America Award for her volunteer efforts at the March 14 Freedom town meeting.

Freedom — About 45 residents came together March 14 at the Dirigo Grange, to talk about the mechanics of running a small town in Waldo County.

The town dedicated its annual report to Sallyann Hadyniak, who died last year. “She exemplified community spirit and what it meant to be a good citizen,” the dedication read.

In town voting results, Elaine Higgins was elected selectman, taking over the seat of Brian Jones', who decided not to run. Cynthia Abbott was reelected clerk, tax collector, excise tax collector and registrar of voters, while Alyssa Brugger will be the town’s new treasurer after Ernestine “Erna” Keller stepped down this year.

Selectman Ron Price acknowledged Keller for her many years of service to the community. He called the position “thankless” and said, “if she ever had a bad day — I’ve never seen it.”  In their letter to the town, Selectmen Ron Price, Stephen Bennett and Brian Jones said, “She deserves the town’s gratitude and respect for the countless extra hours she’s put into the task, making sure that the town’s finances are accurately maintained and represented.”

Frances Walker was presented with the Spirit of America Award for her volunteer efforts. Bennett said Walker was involved with several civic committees, including the Planning Board, Appeals Board, historical society, and Literacy Volunteers.

Residents approved raising and appropriating a total of $225,251 for general government services, a significant jump from last year’s total of $187,421. Some debate occurred over the big-ticket items in the government budget, including $5,000 for a new deputy treasurer position.

Keller said the town had never had a deputy treasurer, but the position was needed to cover “in case someone is out of the office.”

Health insurance jumped to $14,000 from the previous year total of $9,084 and an employee retirement plan with an amount of $3,500 was also questioned. Surveying ($3,000) and legal expenses ($5,000), Bennett explained, had separate line items last year.

The Public Works budget of $288,200 was approved over last year's $276,696. The $11,500 difference, according to Price, was a new roof on the town garage that cost $15,000. The new roof, he noted, is a standing seam metal roof, similar to the previous one.

The big news in the Public Works Department is the long-awaited last payment of $85,000 toward the town's seven-year road paving bond.

Selectmen acknowledged, in their letter to the town what they called a “distraction” over the recall election of two selectmen last spring, and said they were glad “to be back in business.”

The heart of the argument was the condition of a handful of town-maintained dirt roads. Selectmen said the problem was exacerbated by the inconsiderate and reckless use of the roads by some drivers as “mud runs.” While the town made some emergency repairs to Smithton, Goosepecker and Mitchell Roads, residents at a special town meeting rejected a proposal to raise and appropriate extra funds for repairs.

Reached by telephone on Tuesday, Bennett said, "This is our last year of payment," and the town is working to build up the base on Mitchell Road.

He said for the last five or six years the town has tried to do some paving once the yearly bond payment for the roads was made. "We believe our roads are in pretty good shape," he added. This summer, Bennett said, the town is planning to concentrate on Smithton and Penny Hill Roads.

A lengthy debate ensued about the amount of funds slated for service organizations, namely $4,703 to Waldo Community Action Partners, up $2,000 from last year.

A spokesman from WCAP said the amount  is calculated based on the number of individuals in the town using the service, and added that towns were asked to contribute 2½% of the value of those services. In Freedom, he said, 220 people used the agency’s services, for a total value of $188,000. The majority of services included housing programs (insulating and oil tank removal), transportation, early childhood and food programs.

One resident spoke in favor of the program, saying the agency had installed a new furnace in her trailer.

Price said the Budget Committee did look at every request, “every organization is vetted,” and some had been declined.

One resident asked why the town was sending funds to groups outside of Waldo County, saying those funds would be better spent on the roads.

Addressing this concern, Higgins said, “The reason we can’t get roads fixed is we have a lot of back taxes not paid, holding everything back.”  He encouraged residents to get involved with the budget committee and make their voices heard.

Jones added that the town spends $55,000 a month towards the school, $225,000 for general government and $228,000 for public works, “This article is less than 1½% of the total budget … (and) there’s a lot of tangible returns.”

“There would be dead people in town if we didn’t fund these programs,” one resident added.

The next-to-last article on the warrant asked residents to approve a 300-foot buffer between “wireless communication devices” and an occupied structure. The few residents remaining after the lunch break questioned the vagueness of the language and the need to have such an article.

One resident asked, “Is there a project coming in?”

Price said he felt the item should go before the Planning Board, to become an ordinance, while one resident suggested the item should be put before legal counsel.

The article was ultimately defeated.

The town clerk’s report noted four births, six marriages and four deaths in town for the year 2019. The total town 2020 budget was $629,486, up from $560,201 in 2019.

Bennett said he did not know how much would be raised through taxes because of revenue the town would receive and taxes that would be paid after bills are sent out in July.

The meeting adjourned at approximately 1:30 p.m.

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