A lively discussion ends with the approval of the budget at all levels
THORNDIKE — Most of Thorndike’s nearly two-hour town meeting on March 19 was filled with heated discussions, with strong objections to a few projects deemed “nice to do,” rather than “to do.” In the end, a majority of 55 voters approved each article of mandate, for a total of $682,503 to be levied in taxes for municipal operations in the 2022-2023 fiscal year.
Assistant Clerk Debbie Ludden told the Republican Journal on Friday March 25 that in implementing a new spreadsheet system for Thorndike – adapted from the one she used for years at Etna – she had not been able to offer a comparative tax number only for the last financial year. She and City Clerk Rose Hill, both new to the municipal office here, began this conversion process in August, she said.
However, looking at it another way, the city’s total budget, including county and schools, was $1,436,406 last year. If the number of counties and schools were to remain the same, she said, this year’s total budget would increase by about $46,000 to $1,492,569, an increase of about 3.2 percent. .
Following the measures taken during the municipal assembly, the city will spend:
- $320,000 for salt, sand and tillage, of which $300,000 will come from taxes and $20,000 from the surplus;
- $90,000 for municipal road maintenance, including $65,000 from taxes and $25,000 from surplus (excise taxes on motor vehicles), including $25,000 from the total to be used for trimming and cutting roadside trees and brush, especially to get sun on roads and help with snow removal;
- $68,450 for municipal office operations and equipment;
- $64,121 in taxes for the salaries of municipal officials (excluding firefighters);
- $42,900 for garbage collection and $8,000 for regional recycling;
- $45,000 from the surplus to improve and pave Depot Street;
- $19,000 to improve and pave the Town Hall parking lot;
- $12,000 ($8,000 tax, $4,000 surplus) for cemeteries;
- $10,200 ($2,000 from surplus) for volunteer firefighter salaries, plus $37,300 in taxes for fire protection services, $50,000 from surplus to savings account for fire truck replacement and $8,000 of the surplus for a set of self-contained breathing apparatus for a firefighter.
- $6,400 in animal welfare taxes, largely to comply with state requirements that have become increasingly complex, as well as the rising costs of humane treatment of stray animals ;
- $4,800 in donations to non-profit organizations; and
- $741 from Time Warner Cable revenue to purchase a “modest stone” to recognize all branches of the military in the veterans’ memorial launched by Melanie and Trevor Cole outside the municipal office.
The maintenance of the roads and the paving of the parking lot of the municipal office and Depot Street generated many discussions. Berry said most of the roads in question were dirt, requiring ditches, culverts and cuts. “We do one project at a time, calculate the balance; another project, count the balance,” she said.
The paving of the town hall car park prompted a comment from a woman who said that in these times of economic crisis, “we need to save and save” and avoid “nice to do” projects. Berry and Selectman Jeff Trafton countered that there was a need to address existing grading, plowing and water retention issues with the parking lot.
The paving of Depot Street prompted a series of questions and comments. Trafton considered it “an eyesore” in the downtown area that the city is trying to improve, with the Farwell project and other efforts. Voters suggested less expensive alternatives, including adding signs, closing the road, spreading gravel instead of paving, and lowering the speed limit. Berry joked at one point that the potholes served as speed bumps.
The street is mostly dirt, with sections of crumbling asphalt. Some voters have complained that they have contracted more road works when Reynolds Road, which was due to be paved last year, was not. Trafton replied that the owners of the paving company died unexpectedly and the company could not find workers. He said Reynolds Road should top the list of contractors this year.
“I know $42,000 is a lot of money,” Trafton said, “but (Depot Street) is a municipal road and we’re obligated as a city to maintain it.” Referring to discussions with the Maine Department of Transportation, he said “padding is the best long-term option and will be less expensive” than gravel.
Berry said the project will eliminate a bump that is causing problems in the street. “It’s not just about being concealed,” she said. “It is being redesigned and structured.”
Questions about salt, sand and plowing led to a discussion of the widespread difficulty in finding snowplow truck drivers. Trafton said: “We have been very lucky over the past few years. John Cranouski, he’s been traveling our roads for a total of 16 years, and I just want to give him credit — he’s done a great job! … But he made it very clear to us that he had invested his time.
Trafton said selectors called a number of contractors from the area. “They can’t find reliable drivers. … Many … don’t even know if they want to plow and sand. They don’t like doing it, it’s a thankless job, they get a lot of complaints if they hit someone’s mailbox, and they can’t find drivers. This is the overarching problem,” he said.
“The City of Freedom asked us to combine or bid because they have their own public works,” Trafton said. Freedom has since withdrawn its offer because its public works department cannot find drivers either. Thorndike will go to bid next month and lock down as soon as possible, Trafton said.
A constituent asked if Thorndike would introduce the state’s rapid renewal service for vehicle registrations. Coach Charles Greenberg responded that part of the $68,450 approved for municipal office operations and equipment covers computer upgrades to accommodate rapid turnover, so it’s happening.
Following the meeting, Berry told the Republican Journal that on March 5, the city approved a wood-framed, metal-walled building for its new salt and sand shed, along with up to $600,000. in obligations for the project.
“The contractor is expected to break ground on this 30-year project early this spring,” Berry said, “and everything should be ready, operational by the time we start putting in our salt and sand for the winter season (in ) September and October.
Regarding the fiber expansion, Berry said the city used the $20,000 it received from the county plus $80,000 in funds from the American Recovery Program Act, received a commitment for a matching grant of $100,000 from Unitel, its contractor, and requested $300,000 from ConnectMaine, to provide high-speed fiber optic Internet service to the city.
“It’s part of our building, rebuilding and renovating Thorndike,” she said. They expect to hear about the ConnectME grant by April 27, and if awarded, Unitel will begin work 30-45 days after that.
With a state canopy grant, she said the city plans to install northern spruce trees behind its veterans memorial at the city office, as well as birch and red cedar as a noise barrier between the road 220 and office.
“So we have a busy year,” Berry said.
In elections on Friday, March 18, all three civic officers were re-elected, Berry for three years, Greenberg for two, and Trafton for a one-year term.
Political candidates spoke before and during the March 19 meeting, including Searsport Police Chief Todd Boisvert, a Republican, and Waldo County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jason Trundy of Lincolnville, a Democrat; Betsy Garrold of Knox, a Maine Green Independent, and Benjamin Hymes of Waldo, a Republican, both running for the District 38 seat in the Maine House; and Democratic Senator Chip Curry of Belfast, seeking re-election to the Waldo County seat in the state Senate.
Former gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler arrested for possession of child pornography