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Updated: Budget reduction is 9.8%

Voters elect three selectmen, tighten budget

By Carolyn Zachary | Jul 19, 2020
Photo by: Carolyn Zachary Outgoing Searsmont Selectman David Marceau with newly elected Selectmen Arlo Redman, Christopher Staples and Peter Milinazzo, from left. Staples won reelection July 18; both Redman and Milinazzo are new to the board.

Searsmont — So many people turned out for town meeting July 18 that Moderator Lee Woodward had to call a delay in voting while townspeople, queued up in the parking lot, finished signing in. The crowd of about 120 residents filled the seats set up inside and outside the town's new Fire Station, and some remained standing.

Over the course of about two and a half hours, townspeople elected three selectmen, reduced the municipal budget by 9.8% year-over-year, and approved a revised Land Use Ordinance that is now about 40 pages shorter.

In voting for the Board of Selectmen, residents elected Christopher Staples to a three-year term, Arlo Redman to fill the unexpired two years of Dave Marceau’s term, and Peter Milinazzo to fill the remaining year of Bruce Brierley’s unexpired term. Brierley resigned in March, and Marceau resigned effective with the town meeting for health and family reasons and the stress of serving as selectman.

In other voting, townspeople elected Sarah Crosby and Jack DeGraff to the Planning Board and Charlie LeRoyer to the Board of Appeals. They also elected members to the Library and Cemetery committees.

Originally slated for April 4, the annual meeting was one of many postponed around the state because of the coronavirus pandemic. Selectmen, with the help of Arlo Redman, seized the opportunity to scrub the budget proposed for April.

With two voter-approved additions ― $600 to Waldo Community Action Partners in the agency donations line and $5,000 for the Transfer Station ― townspeople approved a budget of $1,144,950, of which $764,600 will be raised from taxes.

That budget total is $312,000 less than the amount budgeted for 2019, and $201,860 less than the budget originally proposed in April. The monies approved Saturday do not reflect the Regional School Unit 71 budget, to be voted on Aug. 18, or the county budget.

Redman explained the additional $5,000 for the Transfer Station was requested as a cushion in the event trash disposal costs increase as a result of the shutdown of Coastal Resources’ Fiberight facility in Hampden. At present, Searsmont trash is being trucked to a landfill in Norridgewock, but that could change.

When Town Clerk Kathy Hoey questioned the Transfer Station overall reduction from last year, Marceau and Redman pointed to 2019 expenses that will not recur this year; plus, the August increase in bag fees will generate “a bit of a bonus” in income.

A resident rose to recommend that “we pay attention to what we buy and how it’s packaged” to reduce waste generally.

Bruce Brierley, who resigned from the Board of Selectmen in March, addressed residents to ask that a cut of $65,000 be restored for roads and bridges because the lesser amount “is not enough.”

Redman explained that the town was down $88,000 in revenue in May and $94,000 at the end of June. “We’re just not taking in as much money as we did in 2019,” he said. “We’re trying to keep your tax rate the same.” If the budget wasn't cut, he said, “there’s only one way to make it up ― raise your tax bill.”

Voters rejected Brierley’s restoration proposal.

One resident voiced concern about a reduction of the Fire Department budget to $70,000 from $106,250 last year. Fire Chief Jim Ames said the department bought a lot of “stuff” in 2019, but “we could have run it on $70,000 last year” and he had no issue with the $70,000 budgeted.

Another resident asked whether there had been “any uptick” in vehicle registrations. Hoey replied that as of July 2 she had taken in $100,000 in excise and property taxes. She said excise taxes for the first five months this year exceeded the amount for the same period in 2019.

During discussion of the revised Land Use Ordinance, Marceau praised the Planning Board for doing “a very good job.”

“An enormous amount of work has gone into the revision,” he said.

Planning Board Chairman Chris Halsted said the revision was precipitated by a Shoreland Zoning oversight ― Searsmont’s map was never approved by the Department of Environmental Protection.

“A big part of the effort was to get a new map synced up with the (Shoreland Zoning) ordinance,” he said. Planning Board members worked closely with DEP, he said, made the town’s ordinance more user-friendly, streamlined some zones and reduced the 200-page document significantly. Attorney Bill Kelly helped, consolidating redundancies and generally streamlining the language.

Wrapping up, Staples said, “It’s been a pretty contentions four to six months. … My term was up in April; I could have just walked away,” but he was persuaded to stay. Staples thanked Ken Seekins, Ed Dodge, Mickey Sirota, Arlo Redman and Peter Milinazzo “for stepping up to help the town.”

“I’m not a numbers person,” he said. “Having Arlo and Peter coming in is going to be a big help to us.

“I love this town,” he added. “I was born here and I’m going to die here.”

Jim Robbins rose to thank the selectmen and called for a “special round of applause for Bruce Brierley” for his 30-plus years of service to the town.

Redman stood to thank Marceau for his service. “He’s put a lot of work into this town,” he said.

Staples added his thanks to Marceau, to Brierley “for getting me interested in being a selectman,” to Ames “for coming back as fire chief,” and to Don Bryant “for stepping up and taking over the ambulance.”

He also invited townspeople to the Board of Selectmen’s meeting Tuesday night, which will be a meet and greet, “not Zoom.”

Moderator Lee Woodward, left, joins Town Clerk Kathy Hoey and Charlie LeRoyer counting ballots for a selectman's race at the Searsmont town meeting July 18. (Photo by: Carolyn Zachary)
Former Selectman Bruce Brierley addresses Searsmont residents July 18 with a request to restore $65,000 to the municipal budget for roads and bridges. (Photo by: Carolyn Zachary)
Moderator Lee Woodward quips that "One advantae to the mask is Jenness and George can't tell what I really think when I speak" during Searsmont's town meeting July 18. (Photo by: Carolyn Zachary)
Selectman Chris Staples talks about "contentious" months in Searsmont this year, leading up to the July 18 town meeting. (Photo by: Carolyn Zachary)
(Photo by: Carolyn Zachary)
(Photo by: Carolyn Zachary)
(Photo by: Carolyn Zachary)
(Photo by: Carolyn Zachary)
(Photo by: Carolyn Zachary)
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