NEWLY ELECTED OFFICIALS were sworn in by Town Clerk Marilynn Maughan following Effingham Town Meeting last Saturday, March 17. (Mellisa Seamans photo) (click for larger version)
March 22, 2012EFFINGHAM — Henry Spencer wasn't even sworn in yet but was already looking to reduce the budget at Effingham's Town Meeting last Saturday, March 17.
Spencer, elected as the town's newest selectman in the March 13 election, made a bold move and asked his fellow voters to cut the selectmen's salary line from $21,000 to $12,000. In the spirit of public service, Spencer's cut would have reduced each of the three board members salary from $7,000 to $4,000 annually.
The most opposition to the cut came from the selectman that Spencer unseated, 12-year veteran John Meisner, who listed off a number of things he did while selectman including health inspections at Lakeview, traveling the roads of Effingham keeping an eye on road work contractors, and being on call in case anything came up that required a selectman to be at the town office. "I firmly believe that $7,000 is not enough. Henry is going to get a real eye opener. $7,000 is where it should be if not more." He also suggested the voters might consider buying a car that could be used by the selectmen instead of using their own vehicles for town business. Eric Potter, a regular attendee at weekly selectmen's meetings spoke against the cut. "I may not have always agreed with Mr. Meisner. In fact I voted for the opposition – congratulations Henry – but from my observation, these people have put in the hours," he said.
Resident Irene Riordan provided a list of selectmen's salaries that she obtained from other communities with similar populations across the state. The average selectmen's salary in 15 towns is $2,400 per year.
Resident Mike Cahalane, defended the Effingham selectmen's pay, stating they put in at least 200 hours a year attending selectmen's meetings and another 150 hours a year on other town business and that $20 an hour is not a bad price to pay for a selectman.
Forty-five voters cast a ballot to decide whether or not to cut the selectmen's salary. The amendment failed in a vote of 14 in favor and 31 opposed.
At its peak, town meeting attracted 60 voters who would go on to approve a $1,235,406 operating budget and several warrant articles in the four-hour meeting. After a break for lunch, with plenty of money left to vote on, about half of those in attendance had left.
One of the first orders of business for the day was deciding whether or not to sell the town's 2006 ambulance. In a secret ballot vote of 54-6, voters agreed to sell it. Voters were assured that because the town has a contract with a private ambulance provider, not having their own ambulance would not jeopardize the emergency care they receive. Fire Chief Randy Burbank explained the volunteer department just doesn't have the staffing to operate the town's ambulance, which requires two medically-licensed people. Burbank said that while four members are currently in class to obtain their emergency medical responder license, the department only has two members who are currently licensed and there is no guarantee they will both be able to respond to staff the ambulance. The department will still operate on a first responder basis, he said, with licensed personnel responding to medical calls to administer care until the ambulance, which is based in Ossipee, arrives. Selectman Susan Slack said there are no plans to purchase any other vehicles for the department though the purchase of a utility-type vehicle that will better serve the needs of the department may be an option in a few years.
A road reconstruction project costing $120,000 will not go out to bid while road resurfacing and sealing to the tune of $136,000 will go out to bid. Resident Jory Augenti pushed the question and wanted to know what the difference is and why one goes out to bid and the other doesn't. Before the board of selectmen gave a response to his question, Moderator Michael Cauble stepped in and cut Augenti's questioning off, calling it irrelevant. Both articles passed.
Despite Cemetery Trustee Kate Davis' plea to allow her the final year of her elected term to garner support for and get some work done to the cemeteries in town, voters sided with selectmen in a close written ballot vote of 18 yes and 16 no, to give all of the cemetery trustees' duties and responsibilities to the board of selectmen.
Carroll County Transit
Despite the fact the board of selectmen and the budget committee voted not to recommend the $3,000 petitioned warrant article for Carroll County Transit's Senior and General Public Transportation bus program, voters agreed to give to the start-up program in a vote of 27-19. Budget Committee member Mike Pilkovsky said that committee voted not to recommend because they received no formal presentation about the program or any other information or statistics that supported it.
Selectmen thanked Tracy Cragin for her work as the appointed Town Auditor, a position voters will see on the 2013 election ballot after that vote passed at Town Meeting. Selectman Slack explained that as of a law that went into effect in September 2010, towns are required to have an audit done by a certified public accountant or by an elected auditor. Back in 2004, new accounting standards were adopted by the accounting industry, she said, that are not regulations or laws but standards of the industry. As a result, every year since 2004, the town has been paying for an audit only to get a letter from the auditing firm stating the town is not in compliance. Slack said the selectmen and office staff are working with other department heads and the auditing firm to bring the town into compliance with the standards. Speaking in favor of having an elected auditor, Slack said it is a waste of money to keep paying $20,000 a year for non-compliance letters as they work to get the town into compliance. "We cannot borrow money unless we can show the audit has been done by a CPA," she said. The auditing firm will continue to review financial records of the town and prepare the required annual report of the town's financial status to the state department of revenue. The elected auditor, will receive a stipend of $500 to review all accounts and complete a state revenue department checklist, keeping the town in compliance with state law, as the work continues to meet the accounting standards.
Voters approved all other warrant articles, including
- $25,804 for the second year of the five-year contract with Avitar for property assessing services
- $4,000 for the Town Clerk to purchase Avitar software for her office for doing motor vehicle registrations. Town Clerk Marilyn Maughan explained the move from state-issued equipment to town owned equipment will bring conveniences to the office and the customers, including quicker service and less paperwork
- $29,353 to savings accounts for combating invasive plants, future fire truck and police car purchases, replacing the town's reportedly decrepit salt shed, bridge repairs, and improvements to the transfer station
- $12,503 to trust fund accounts for repairs to town-owned buildings, library equipment, and planning/land use needs
- Discontinuation of the $37,803 reserve fund for the rescue department and that money to be transferred to the fire truck and equipment account that had a balance as of Dec. 31, 2011 of $157,734
- Discontinuation of the Huntress Bridge Fund and the $37,374 from that account going into a general bridge fund for use on any town bridge that needs repair