The Star-Herald

Fort Fairfield proposes changes to budget advisory committee

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — Fort Fairfield’s controversial budget advisory committee will once again be up for discussion during a public hearing in early August.

Town councilors approved the creation of a budget committee in the spring, hoping to gain more input from residents who are concerned about recent tax increases. But differing opinions on how to run the committee has brought tension from the start, with one member resigning over alleged bullying during a public committee meeting. Those opposed to the committee have advocated for more oversight and clearer directions from the town council.

That is why councilors introduced amendments to the budget committee ordinance during their Wednesday, July 20, meeting.

If approved, the revised ordinance would require two town councilors to serve as non-voting members of the committee. During the budget process, the committee would need to present their recommendations to Town Manager Andrea Powers and then to town councilors in writing.

The current ordinance gives the committee members authority to make recommendations to councilors but does not specify how they should do so. In past meetings, Powers took issue with how the ordinance does not specify whether the committee should have conversations with her about budget proposals.

Councilors did not offer comments about the proposed ordinance changes. Chairperson Robert Kilcollins said that the public hearing will occur at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3, in the town council chambers, 18 Community Center Drive.

Since approving the ordinance in March, councilors and residents have remained divided over what the committee’s role should be in the budget process. Many residents still see the committee as necessary for preventing what they believe to be town overspending and too high tax increases.

During a public comment period Wednesday, longtime resident David Dorsey took issue with the recently approved town budget.

After approving an unplanned and unspecified total budget during a mid-June meeting, councilors held a special meeting June 28 in which they approved a $5,258,950 budget, with a projected revenue of $6,494,535. This year’s budget represents a nearly $2 million decrease from last year’s $7 million budget.

Although councilors discussed a potential 24 mill tax rate, compared with last year’s 19.5-mill rate, in June, Powers did not specify what mill rate might result from the newly passed budget.

We do not know what the mil rate will be until we have the final [tax] assessment numbers at the end of September. That is why we set the mill rate for Oct. 1,” Power said.

But Dorsey still spoke against the previously projected mill rate as something that could drive residents and businesses away from Fort Fairfield. He said he supports keeping the budget committee, so long as the members and councilors remain honest with taxpayers.

“I don’t think there has been any transparency [about the budget] even though some of us have been trying to get answers,” Dorsey said. 

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