Naples budget: Cut or push tax levy limit?

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — It seemed clear that some people in the community favored cutting the Naples municipal budget rather than setting taxes higher than the tax levy limit.

One question was how to go about reducing the budget by $215,000 so that it is not necessary to tax landowners an amount that is over the state-set tax limit.

During Monday’s Naples Board of Selectmen meeting — the first since Town Meeting — the tax levy limit, known as LD1, was discussed and a date of July 16 was set for a Special Town Meeting.

During public participation time, resident Doug Bogdan read from a written statement.

“I was in attendance at our June 1 annual Town Meeting. As a registered voter, who voted in that meeting, I take offense to the town’s thoughts that we need to spend yet more money to hold a Special Town Meeting to attempt to change the outcome of the vote on Article 64,” Bogdan said.

“Perhaps it was defeated because no percentage or dollar cap was mentioned in the article, or perhaps it was because those who voted on it wanted to keep the town’s overall budget within the limit set by the state,” he said.

“I do know for a fact that not every voter at the meeting had actually cast a vote on each and every article as they were presented,” he said, adding he abstained from voting on some articles and sought clarification before voting on others.

“The votes are in, and just because the vote did not turn out like some had expected, I don’t think the town should take another vote on Article 64 unless we open all articles and vote on them again,” he said.

“If the options are to reduce the budget, or to hold another Town Meeting and open all the articles for another vote, then I would hope the town does the right thing and saves the taxpayers’ money by adjusting the budget and listening to the voice of the voter,” Bogdan said.

Article 64 was done by silent ballot at the end of the Town Meeting on June 1. According to Town Clerk Judy Whynot, 71 people cast votes by silent ballot, and the article was defeated, 43–28.

On Tuesday, Naples town office staff said 95 registered voters attended the Town Meeting on June 1. At that time, voters approved the $3.2 million budget, which had increased approximately five percent from last year.

During the selectmen’s meeting on Monday, resident Roger Clement Sr. had several questions about how to proceed.

“I am confused. The voters said “no,” they are not going to violate the LD1 to raise funds. That being the case, do we send the budget back to the budget committee? Do we have a special town meeting to vote on the budget,” Clement asked.

Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak said he would address those questions later in the agenda when the item on setting the special town meeting date came up. The urgency to hold a special town meeting soon is that the town typically sends out tax bills in late August, Paraschak said.

He repeatedly said that it was necessary to vote again on the tax levy limit.

“If the LD1 vote passes, you wouldn’t have to make any cuts. If it fails, we can have another article to trim $215,000 off the budget,” Paraschak said.

Resident Bob Neault asked, “If the vote is still negative on Article 64 but the town authorizes selectmen to shave $215,000, does the town shave it or do the voters help with it?”

Paraschak said the people could vote on a warrant article giving authority to the Naples Budget Committee and the selectmen to reduce the budget by that amount.

Neault said it sounded like that route would require a repeat of a town meeting because people would have to approve the final budget with cuts made by the budget committee and the board.

“Unless you gave the selectmen 100 percent authority,” Paraschak said.

Resident Jim Grattelo stood up to speak. “You need to present us with $215,000 in cuts. Then, we decide whether we like it or not. You don’t get a chance to get another bite of the apple. That vote was lost,” he said. “You have to come up with another $215,000. I don’t believe you have the right to take a second bite of apple. And say that they didn’t know what they were voting about,” Gratello said.

Clement, who had earlier asked questions about the process, suggested that people at the town meeting should vote on LD1 first “in order to not get into that trap again.”

“It seems to me the budget committee should go through and take the money out of the budget. Otherwise, we could do this forever,” Clement said.

Paraschak said in the Town of Denmark, if needed that year, the tax levy limit warrant article was at the beginning of the town meeting. Therefore, people knew early on that the proposed budget would require exceeding LD1.

Town officials plan to come up with recommended cuts to the municipal budget prior to the Special Town Meeting.

Another potential solution is to appropriate funds from the surplus account, which would help avoid making cuts, according to Paraschak.

A second item will be reviewed at the Special Town Meeting.

It is a request to change the zoning on the property owned by John Marston, across Route 302 from Marston’s Redemption Center, recently renamed Just Nickel, LLC. The lot is used by Marston’s Tree Service. If approved at the Town Meeting, the lot adjacent to the Black Bear Cafe would become a commercial zone.

That warrant article originated from a citizens’ signature petition, but the paperwork was turned in too late for the town meeting on June 1.

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