Newry voters quiz officials, OK budget
At Monday’s town meeting, Newry voters closely questioned town officials on staff raises, roadwork, trash and the proposed use of erosion control funds, but in the end approved all of the money articles.
The votes leave the town with a $771,838 municipal budget, down from last year's $834,262.
Forty-five people turned out for the hour and fifteen-minute meeting.
The questioning started with the first money article – administrative costs – which includes staff salaries and wages.
Selectmen earlier this year agreed to 2 percent raises for the staff. But Brad Wight objected.
“Most other places are hard up,” he said. “Nobody's getting raises, and last year we gave everyone a 3 percent raise, and this year a 2 percent.”
Selectman Wendy Hanscom said the town often uses SAD 44 raises as a guide. “They're at about 3.3 percent, but we didn't do 3.3 percent,” she said.
Replied Wight, “No other company is giving cost of living raises. Health insurance has gone up and you're bringing home less. The town's giving everybody more and more. I ought to quit my job and become a town employee full-time.”
Another resident asked what each staff member makes. Town Administrator Loretta Powers said her salary is $59,000 and Code Enforcement Officer Dave Bonney’s is $48,840, while Deputy Clerk Anita Clark makes $16.87/hour and Assistant Clerk Laura Lowell $12.24. Newry pays health benefits for the employee only.
Freeman Corriveau said, “For that kind of money, we ought to have the town office open on Fridays.”
For the past 15 years, said Powers, the office has been open four days a week for 10 hours a day, 7-5.
She said some people prefer to come early in the morning or late afternoon because of their work schedules, and she often helps people arriving at 6:45 a.m.
Voters eventually approved the $247,773 requested for the administrative article.
When it came time to vote on road maintenance for a proposed $128,500, residents wanted to know if money had been saved this year by putting the work out to bid. The summer and winter work had been done for years by D.A. Wilson, but at last year’s town meeting selectmen were directed to ask for bids.
Powers said she did not have a numbers comparison, in part because the winter maintenance was separated out this year. New contractor Cross Excavation has a three-year contract for $88,000. She also said Cross was supplying sand and salt this year, whereas last year the town bought it separately.
But Pat Roma thought the calculations should be made. “I 'd like to think the townspeople deserve a comparison,” he said.
Powers said she would do it at a later date. She also said the selectmen expect to put the summer work out to bid.
Voters approved $121,028 for the Tri-Town Transfer Station, which Newry shares with Bethel and Hanover.
But Corriveau questioned the direction of the board that oversees the station.
“They need some new ideas. Everybody else has a [trash] compactor,” he said, using Gilead as an example.
In another article residents voted again on a Tri-Town-related issue, transferring $15,276 that has been sitting in the Tri-Town Transfer Station Capital Improvement Account to the Capital Projects Account.
Hanscom said the town had approved the money a decade ago in anticipation of Bethel also raising money to upgrade the station and add a compactor, but Bethel never followed through.
Money from two other accounts that have sat idle for several years was also moved to Capital Projects.
Former selectman Steve Wight said the Bear River and Sunday River Watershed accounts, with amounts of $28,363 and $9,431 respectively, had been used in the past for such work as saving roads that were threatened by erosion.
He advocated keeping the remaining money where it was because grant funds were expected to be available soon through the Androscoggin River Watershed Council, and it could be used as a grant match to do work on trout habitat and culvert removal or alignment.
Selectman Brooks Morton said that earlier trout habitat work in Newry had not proven effective in increasing fish populations.
Powers said she had recommended putting the question of the watershed and Tri-Town accounts on the warrant because “I saw money sitting there, and we have roads to fix.”
Townspeople voted 25-11 on the Bear River account and 21-13 on the Sunday River one to move the money.
After a lengthy discussion on current and future options for road improvements, voters approved $254,000 from the Capital Improvement Account to reclaim the Lone Pine Road and pave a portion of the Sunday River Road.
The only article voted down Monday was one asking if townspeople wished to ask the commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation to remove the designation of “Scenic Byway” from a stretch of Route 26 in Newry.
Some residents have worried that the designation could lead to town regulations that would further restrict the use of their land.
But, argued Steve Wight,“I think [removing the designation] is a very foolish thing to do. We are a town that exists because of recreation and tourism and forestry. People come to areas where there are Scenic Byways, and map out their vacation route by Scenic Byways. It means a whole lot to people who make their living through tourism in the area.”
The vote was 16-12 to keep the designation.
Voters returned incumbent selectman Gary Wight and SAD 44 School Director Deb Webster to office unopposed for three years each, and Dog Officer Alan Fleet for a year.
The meeting was moderated by Woodstock Town Manager Vern Maxfield.