Bridgton voters take under one hour to handle warrant

By Lisa Williams Ackley

Staff Writer

THANKS, SELECTMAN TRIGLIONE — Here, outgoing Bridgton Board of Selectmen Chairman Arthur Triglione Sr. (at left) is thanked for his years of service to the town by Selectman Robert "Woody" Woodward, at the annual town meeting June 13. (Ackley Photo)

As one Bridgton voter put it, "This town meeting was five minutes longer than last year's."

Yes, and it only lasted 50 minutes, as just over 100 voters quickly dispensed with the 44 warrant articles at the annual town meeting on June 13.

Voters approved Articles 6 through 19 in a block, with very little discussion and few questions asked. Among those that were approved in Articles 6 through 19 was Article 11 allowing the town to participate in the Cumberland County Housing and Community Development Programs of the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development including the Community Development Block Grant Program.

Article 7 brought lengthy discussion, with Vanessa Jones making a motion to amend the rate paid to taxpayers who pay amounts in excess of the amount assessed to an interest rate of 1.5%, or half of the 3% interest rate proposed.

The town meeting warrant format allowed voters to decrease amounts proposed in warrant articles, but they could not increase them.

In answer to Jones' question, Bridgton Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz issued a post-town meeting clarification of his explanation of Article 7.

The town manager's clarification statement explains that the amendment approved by voters for Article 7 to reduce the 3% interest rate from 3% to 1.5% has become null and void, due to state statutes.

"Statute prohibits any further reduction"

"Article 7 sets the interest rate that would be paid in the next fiscal year for those taxpayers who pay amounts in excess of the amounts finally assessed," Berkowitz explained. "The information that I provided the citizens at this important town meeting was not as clear as it should have been and the subsequent actions taken to reduce the interest rate to 1.5% are not in accordance with the prevailing state statute."

Berkowitz said further, "Article 7 simply deals with those taxpayers who pay their taxes and as a result of any abatement or downward adjustment to their assessed value find they had overpaid their taxes for that year and therefore would be entitled to receive interest on the amount to be refunded only. The statute (that applies in this case) also establishes the rate setting formula which relies upon the interest rate set in the previous article less 4%. In this case that turns out to be 3%, exactly the language in Article 7. The statute prohibits any further reduction. Therefore, the vote to amend Article 7 down to 1.5% becomes null and void and the statute's formula dictates the 3% for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2012."

Article 8, which allows the tax collector to accept pre-payment of taxes not yet due or assessed was approved by voters June 13.

Explaining Article 8, the town manager stated, "However, there was no interest rate or payments authorized to the taxpayer for any pre-payment."

Berkowitz said in conclusion, "The concern raised by the citizen at town meeting was that the interest rate in Article 7 was higher than what a person could receive at the bank and placed the town in a position of possibly paying out more to those who chose to use pre-pay of their taxes as an investment opportunity leaving the town in a negative position. That issues does not exist, since the town meeting did not approve any such interest rate or payments. I hope this clarifies the issue of interest rates and payments for the next fiscal year."

Article 21 asked if voters would approve raising and appropriating $400,040 for the cost of General Government. The amount approved in 2011-12 was $383,192.

Jim Cossey asked if salaries for all town employees were included in this article, to which Berkowitz responded, "Yes."

Cossey then asked, "Was there a general pay raise for town employees?"

"Yes, 3%," Berkowitz replied.

Article 36 asked voters to raise and appropriate the sum of $577,389 for the cost of operating the transfer station. Last year, voters approved spending $629,970.

Cossey came to the microphone again, stating, "When we went to single sort (recycling), I recall the recycling rate was 47%. It seems to me it has gone down, as it's at 22% now."

Berkowitz explained the difference, saying, "When we proposed single sort, we were using the calculation of what we anticipated (to recycle), and that figure was inaccurate." Berkowitz said the town now uses recycling percentages generated by the state.

Acknowledging the 22% recycling rate, the town manager said, "This became a serious concern, as we are still no where close to the 50% (rate of recycling) we really should be."

Selectman Paul Hoyt asked to have an article reconsidered, specifically to ask a question about it, but not to make any changes to the amount proposed. Hoyt said he wanted clarification on what the $55,000 for a mower at the BRAG Recreational Fields was for, and Berkowitz said it was for the cost of a commercial-type mower as well as a building to store it in during the months it is used.

Veteran town meeting moderator Collins said of Hoyt's request, "I think this is an unusual thing — I think it is only the second time (this has happened)."

Collins then explained, "If no one moves to alter or change that number (already approved in the previous consideration by voters), the previous vote stands."

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