Select Board members finalized their municipal budget recommendations at a special meeting April 25, and then abruptly ended the meeting, with members deciding not to push forward on holding elections June 9.

Board members did agree on voting by paper ballot for local elections, zoning changes, the 2020-21 municipal budget and all town meeting items. They did not approve the warrant for that vote, or decide the date it would take place.

Earlier this month, Gov. Janet Mills announced that State Primary elections, usually held in June, would be delayed until July 14. The Rockport Select Board and local school boards have voted to delay their elections and budget votes to July 14 as well. Camden and Rockport share the costs of the K-8 school district. The two towns also share costs for Camden Hills Regional High School, along with Appleton, Hope and Lincolnville.

Discussion on June vote cut short

At the April 25 meeting, held on a Saturday morning, the budget discussion ran for just under three hours. Next, a discussion and vote on holding a June 9 election and town meeting was to take place, according to the agenda.

When the budget discussion ended, Vice Chairwoman Alison McKellar and Board Member Jenna Lookner said they did not have more time available that day for the discussion.

McKellar said there would be many details to discuss about holding the vote by paper ballot, and that the board's budget recommendations needed to be added to the warrant and reviewed prior to approval.

At that point, Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell said it was unrealistic to try to hold a June vote and town meeting, via paper ballot. She said the board made one of the most important decisions, that it would go forward with a paper ballot format for elections and town meeting.

Town Attorney Bill Kelly said a new Executive Order from the Governor is expected to be issued soon, so it was no longer the best time to make a decision on holding a June meeting.

Both Caler-Bell and Kelly reversed their positions on holding a June vote, which they had advocated at the April 21 Select Board meeting. On April 21, they were in favor of holding a June 9 vote, primarily by paper ballot. The special April 25 board meeting, was set specifically to approve the budget and warrant for a June vote.

On April 22, Caler-Bell said the cost of the paper-ballot vote would be about the same if it took place in June or on July 15. She said the town would seek reimbursement under the Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster assistance program, which is assisting governments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Budget recommendations

The Select Board is recommending a 2020-21 municipal budget, with expenses totaling $9,553,88, offset by projected revenues of $3,632,206. The net budget totals $5,921,681, which is the amount to be paid through property tax.

The board recommendation represents a 0% increase over the current net budget for 2019-20, which is $5,889,433.

A pay increase for town employees was the most discussed topic among board members. The majority supported a 3% pay increase in a 4 to 1 roll call vote, with McKellar voting against it. The Budget Committee, which finalized its recommendations April 23, voted against any increase in wages in the 2020-21 budget.

On April 25, Board Member Taylor Benzi said he watched the Budget Committee's April 23 meeting, and noted that after a 30-minute discussion, all but one committee member voted against the 3% raise. He said he appreciated all of the committee's work on the budget, but disagreed with their reason for cutting the raise, which was that in these uncertain times it didn't feel appropriate. Benzi said that the current situation "is exactly when we should be supporting employees."

Board member Marc Ratner supported the 3% increase pay increase, saying the most important factor in the success of town government is the staff, and they are part of what makes Camden a great town.

Board Member Jenna Lookner supported the raise, and said the increase is "a relatively manageable number, and taking care of people is hugely important right now." She said a precedent was set for raising town employee wages during a time of recession in 2008-09.

McKellar strongly disagreed with a 3% raise, but said she is in favor of hazard pay for employees.

She said she is in favor of staff raises in general, but said starting the discussion with a 3% increase is not consistent with town policy and was "wildly out of synch with any real numbers out there."

In past years, she said, consideration of a cost-of-living increase for town employees included the use indicators, such as the Consumer Price Index or raises for state employees. She said the projected cost of living increase for Social Security is under 1 percent, and the local school district is proposing no salary increase in its 2020-21 budgets.

McKellar pointed out due to the COVID-19 pandemic  many essential employees, even health care workers, are seeing pay cuts and reduced hours.

Falciani agreed with the pay increase, but called it a special circumstance increase. He said he does not agree with the idea of 3% cost of living raises every year.

The Budget Committee recommendations on the 2020-21 municipal budget were finalized April 23. An overarching principal, stated numerous times during their last meeting, was achieving a 0% increase over the previous year.

Both Select Board and Budget Committee recommendations will appear on the paper ballot residents see, when the date for the vote is determined.