A still-gloomy economy will be hanging over Maine municipalities as town meeting season starts this weekend.

In communities around the state, residents will gather in school gyms, fire stations and town halls to approve budgets and take care of other municipal business. This year, they will have to contend with decreased revenue, particularly in aid from the state.

Although Gov. John Baldacci proposed an additional $6 million for municipalities this week in light of a revised state budget projection that anticipates additional revenue, towns will still feel financially pinched.

“The governor’s original budget came out with some really dire numbers for communities. Those who are going into this budget season are really concerned about what they are going to do. I think they still are, but I think the picture has brightened ever so little,” said Michael Starn, a spokesman for the Maine Municipal Association.

Communities that hold their town meetings at this time of year will have an extra degree of uncertainty, because they will not have final revenue figures from the state.

March used to be the traditional time for town meetings, but about 40 percent of Maine towns that still have annual meetings hold them in May or June to align with the fiscal year that begins in July.

In Bowdoin, where the town meeting will start at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Central School, Selectman John Simonson said town officials hope to keep the property tax rate down, but a moderate increase is likely.

The town plans to maintain its current level of staffing and services, he said, but is trying to persuade the school board to pare back its budget.

“I guess it’s time everybody bites the bullet and does with what we have until the crisis is over,” Simonson said.

In Limerick, where the meeting is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Saturday at town hall, officials cut costs without eliminating programs.

The town got new bids for its insurance policies and switched to single stream at the transfer station, said Martha Hamilton, chairwoman of the Board of Selectpersons.

While municipal officials have done all they can, she said, anticipated tax increases due to the school and county budgets will likely make residents unhappy.

“But they will rightfully direct their anger at the state level, because they’re the ones who passed it down to the property tax person,” she said.

In Limington, Selectman Raymond Webb Sr. anticipates it will take about nine hours for residents to work through 71 warrant articles — even though he expects the property tax rate to remain flat.

Limington’s town meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday at the municipal building.

It’s not always easy to predict which items will generate debate. Webb remembers that several years ago, a $300 item for membership in the Saco River Corridor Commission generated 45 minutes of discussion, while a $150,000 expense for road paving passed in 13 seconds.

This year, he suspects a proposed barking-dog ordinance could be contentious.

While he sometimes dreads “griping” by critics, Webb wouldn’t want to see Limington’s form of government change.

“I love it this way,” he said. “It’s a way of life.”

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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