Naples backs budget cuts

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — To everyone’s knowledge, Naples is the first town in Maine to have voters at a Town Meeting approve the budget, and then vote down a warrant article allowing the town to exceed the tax levy limit without making any adjustments to the just approved budget.

In most cases, after the secret ballots have been counted — if residents vote against surpassing the state-set tax levy, then the budget warrant articles must be re-opened so decreases can be voted upon that same night.

But, for various reasons, that did not happen.

So, 51 voters, including committee and board members, spent a July evening in the gymnasium of the Town Hall.

Because Naples is the only municipality to face this process, the town’s attorney could not answer some specific questions about how to conduct the second town meeting. After all, no other town had set precedence.

“Our lawyer said this has never happened in a municipality,” according to Naples Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak.

The Town Meeting had been held on June 1; and six weeks later, on July 15, a Special Town Meeting resolved the budget cuts.

Additionally, a debt service question had been omitted from the original warrant articles, Paraschak said. That item alone would have necessitated the special town meeting, he said.

Two zones changes also had to be addressed through a town meeting vote. One of those passed; the other was tabled because the person who initiated a citizen’s petition decided to withdraw the Warrant Article and reword the language.

Prior to the Special Town Meeting, the areas of the proposed budget that could be cut had been discussed during several workshops with the Naples Budget Committee, the Naples Board of Selectmen and Paraschak.

Ten sections of the budget faced cuts that totaled more than $215,000.

The voters — not wanting to pay more in taxes — quickly approved the monetary decreases.

The only item — other than the roads reserve — that came into question that evening was legal fees.

Resident Jim Grattelo said with lawsuits pending there was no logical reason to reduce the legal fees.

That line item was located in the administration section of the budget, which was being presented as Warrant Article 3.

“I cannot even begin to understand why we are cutting the legal budget,” Grattelo said of the $8,000 which was slated to be slashed from that line item.

The town spent $113,000 last year — based on the budget in the Annual Town Report.

The municipal budget, which first came before the voters in June, proposed an increase from $21,000 to $42,000 to “catch up on old bills” — that was according to Paraschak’s statement, he said.

“And now, you have cut it from $42,000 to $32,000,” Grattelo said.

“You are being served and could owe $66,000,” Grattelo said, referring to the American Holdings Inc., lawsuit against the town. A judgment in the Maine Business and Consumer Court ruled in favor of American Holdings; and the lawyer has filed a motion, asking the Town of Naples to pay a portion of American Holdings’ legal fees that stemmed from appeals made by the town.

“Another lawsuit could be $100,000,” Gratello said.

Paraschak said, “For the current fiscal year, the town has spent zero dollars” on legal services.

“Last year, it spent $117,000 in legal fees,” Paraschak said.

He cited the lawsuit brought against the town by American Holdings and the Begin Estate lawsuit involving salt contamination in that property’s well.

This year “the board is hoping any legal issues will be resolved quickly,” Paraschak said.

Also, on a related topic, Gratello asked about the process of moving money from one account to another to cover shortfalls for a line item — in this case the legal expenses.

Paraschak indicated that carryovers or money that was not spent in any line item could be transferred from one account to another by a vote of the selectmen.

In this fiscal year’s budget, $25,000 had already been approved as Unanticipated Expenses. That was not mentioned during the Special Town Meeting.

Gratello asked why the voters approve specific line items if the town can spend more in one area by having the selectmen transfer money from one line item to another.

“Based on last year, that $34,000 was inadequate,” Gratello said.

“Last year, you asked for $20,000” and that was inadequate for real-life expenses, he said.

“There is no way I feel comfortable with $34,000,” set aside to cover future legal fees, he said.

Warrant Article 3 passed with about one-third of the voters opposing it.

Warrant Article 8, which cut $10,100 from the Road Reserves got a quick review from residents.

“Will the cuts this year make it more difficult for next year?” resident Larry Anton asked.

“Part of the reason I recommended it is over the last several years, that town has built up a reserve for road construction, and it hasn’t been tapped. It would be great to have it,” Paraschak said.

“We banked a lot of money that hasn’t been spent,” he said.

After the budget cuts were approved as presented, Warrant Article 13 — which called for exceeding the tax levy limit — was tabled indefinitely.

 

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