Rockport passes all warrant items at town meeting
Rockport — Rockport residents convened Wednesday June 13 to discuss — and ultimately approve — all remaining articles on the warrant.
A potluck dinner, hosted by Molly Larson of the Rockport Public Library preceded the meeting. Larson said the potluck is a tradition that used to happen in Rockport and she hopes it will continue to grow in the future. She said she perceives the potluck as an inviting way to get residents to attend town meeting. She said they had good turnout this year.
"It's an opportunity to sit with your neighbors," Larson explained. She said Sue Dates and Rockport Public Works were integral in helping put on the pre-meeting event.
About 50 residents gathered in the Rockport Opera House on June 13.They moved swiftly through most of articles, including the approval of the proposed budget as recommended.
Residents approved a municipal budget of $4,373,635, which is up $175,946 from the current year. Taking other revenues into account, the total raised from taxation will be $2,642,826, which is up 3.24 percent.
Various town department budgets were proposed and approved as follows:
General government: $967,615, up $48,370 or 5.2 percent
Public safety: $1,032,116, up $24,807 or 2.4 percent
Public works: $1,444,307, down $55,462 or 3.7 percent
Culture and recreation: $506,204, down $18,336 or 4 percent
The budget includes the temporary position of assistant public works director, filled in March and funded in keeping with the select board’s goal of having an orderly transition when current Public Works Director Steve Beveridge retires. In another change to personnel lines, the position of assistant town clerk would be funded at a lower level than in last year's budget.
Among the capital items included is a new police cruiser, at $24,325. The Public Works Department lines include $276,661 for road and sidewalk related projects. This is a $16,796 increase from last year. That department's budget also includes $32,900 — the first lease payment for one 2013 F-550 one-ton truck.
Some articles generated questions from residents, Mary Garretson took the floor several times to question the town officials and select board members assembled on the stage about the cost of employee insurance benefits to the town. Garretson, who previously served on the Employee Wages and Benefits Committee, said she was concerned the Undesignated Fund Balance of — or UFB — of $110K could be used to make up "shortcomings" in paying for employee insurance benefits, which she thinks the town was "conservative" in estimating in the 2012-2013 budget. The amount budgeted for insurance is $43,500.
"The UFB would be the last thing to use," said Rockport Finance Director Virginia Lindsey.
Lindsey and Town Manager Bob Peabody explained the town works to keep insurance costs low and goes to bid every 3 to 5 years for insurance. They presently obtain insurance through Maine Municipal Employee Health Trust.
During discussion of Article 18, Garretson attempted to amend the article to state the UFB not be used toward employee benefit shortfalls.
"If you've understated the medical I don't want to use the UFB to make up the shortfall," she said.
Peabody countered that the amendment would require the consultation of an attorney, followed by a special town meeting. Residents passed the article as worded in the warrant.
Questioning Article 12, the public safety budget, Alex Armentrout noted the harbor budget is up 13.8 percent. Harbormaster Abbie Leonard said the rise is due to very specific projects, including float and building maintenance and piling replacement.
Some of the wooden floats "need serious attention," Leonard said.
Peabody added there is also an increase in sewage fees because Rockport recently added a pump-out station at the harbor.
During discussion of Article 22, designating the dates of tax payments, Garretson took the floor and requested the dates be moved from the proposed Oct. 15, 2012, and April 16, 2013, to dates a month later. She received some support and a second for her motion. She had requested that tax installment due dates be moved to Nov. 15, 2012, and May 15, 2013.
"April is difficult for people," Garretson said, adding many other business and personal expenses are due in April. She said due dates used to be in May and November, as she proposed.
Lindsey said the reason due dates are in April and October is to assist with the town's cash flow. She said she was able to get through the year without borrowing money and probably would be able to do so again if the tax installment due dates were left as proposed. She explained the town would incur legal and interest fees if the dates were changed.
"I'd have to borrow money in the spring and fall," she said. She said legal fees would be at least $1,500 and the loan payments and interest approximately $50 to $60 a day. She said the increased costs eventually would fall on the shoulders of taxpayers.
Moderator Robert Duke called for an initial vote on the amendment and received 22 votes in favor of changing the tax installment due dates and 16 votes against. Discussion on the item was revisited.
"Can you give us an idea of what this would cost?" Select Board member Tracy Lee Murphy asked Lindsey.
"I would have to borrow for the fall as early as September," Lindsey explained. She said the town spends $1 to $1.5 million monthly, including an $800,000 monthly school bill.
Peabody pointed out the town offers a tax club that allows eligible residents and businesses to pay their taxes during the course of 12 months in installments, without accruing interest.
"That's here for people and businesses to take advantage of," Peabody said.
Town Clerk Linda Greenlaw said 20 to 25 residents currently participate in the tax club.
"The number of revenues over the years have decreased and fluctuated — some directly from the state," Lindsey explained.
She noted the fluctuations can impact cash flow because revenues aren't readily coming in. She said leaving the tax dates as is — Nov. 15, 2012 and April 16, 2013 — would likely prevent her from having to borrow again.
Duke called for another vote on the motion to amend, the amendment failed by a vote of 15 in favor and 25 opposed.
Article 22 passed as written by a vote of 29 in favor and 10 opposed after about 25 minutes of discussion.
Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.