TOPSHAM — Voters at Wednesday’s Town Meeting approved a $7.8 million municipal budget for fiscal 2010.

The meeting at Mt. Ararat High School drew 201 of Topsham’s more than 7,400 registered voters, or fewer than 3 percent.

One component of the budget is $1.4 million in debt service, which Finance Committee Chairman Mike Whitney said is $70,000 more than the current year. “And it will peak next year as it increases $70,000 more,” he said. “After that it will decrease moderately at about $30,000 per year.”

The total also constitutes about 18 percent of Topsham’s municipal expense budget, Whitney said, adding that “it’s not advisable to take on more debt unless we really need to.”

Voters approved the general government line of $2.7 million, which includes an expenditure of $60,000 to fund an engineering study at Bay Park. The study is intended to derive the cost and best course of action to address drainage issues in that area of town. Money for further work may have to be borrowed in the coming years.

The general assistance line is also up by about $21,000, Selectman Jim Trusiani explained, in order to allow the general assistance coordinator to work an extra four hours per week “to process the extra work she’s doing because of the economy that we’re in.”

The capital program is funded at $369,000. Whitney said this number includes $200,000 for road construction.

“In order to be able to repave the roads and take care of them the way they should be taken care of, a lifetime of 30 years,” he explained, “you need to be spending about $330,000 per year. We’ve been shorting that particular budget by about $100,000 for the last several years. … We need to typically be spending more money than we are in road construction on a year-to-year basis.”

Paul Loveless of Williams Drive made a motion to amend the amount for road construction by adding $52,560.

Michelle Moody of Foreside Road pointed out that “if we don’t take care of our roads, it’s just going to be a bigger bill in the future … we’re just going to pay in the future if not now, so I do think we need to make sure we have adequate funding for our roads.”

Selectman Michelle Derr said that the $200,000 recommended by her board and the Finance Committee would cover only Elm Street, calling the extra money proposed “a drop in the bucket, because we are so far behind in our roads works.”

A vote on Loveless’ motion failed, after which resident Mike Evringham proposed increasing the road work budget by $48,000 and taking the money out of reserve account funds raised previously for a Green Street park that failed to materialize. Since that source of revenue was not mentioned in the article, though, the Town Meeting moderator ruled against the motion. A motion to overrule his ruling also failed.

Finance Committee member David Douglass pointed said the economic challenges of this year have made it difficult to catch up with road improvements. “This year … we’re at about 40 percent funding for what we should be,” he said, adding that a bond package is likely in the future to address the roads. However, the large amount of debt service in the fiscal 2010 budget makes further bonding difficult at this time.

The $200,000 line for roads remained as is. Other municipal budget line items included $1.8 million for public safety and $1.5 million for public works/solid waste.

The final line item involved spending money for the town’s community development work plan, and setting aside the equivalent of 5 percent of municipal tax increment financing revenues to pay for community projects. These “quality-of-life” projects include trail and bicycle path projects.

Resident Liz Armstrong moved to allocate $20,000, but Whitney moved to amend that amount to $0. He said the Finance Committee removed that line item because “our sense was that this is not the year for it, and that this again would be the third year in a row that we would zero this out.”

Whitney said the town had lost $400,000 over the past year in revenue. His motion to amend the amount passed by a show of hands, 96-77, and the amended amount of $0 passed, as well.

An ordinance to amend the Topsham Town Code to implement the recommendations made in the 2008 Main Street Plan passed, as did road acceptances of Shady Lane, Hawthorne Lane and Crabtree Drive, all in the Topsham Crossing subdivision.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or [email protected].

filed under: