The Falmouth Town Council on Monday unanimously approved raising the income eligibility cap for the town’s Senior Property Tax Relief program from $30,000 to $40,000, to expand access to residents older than 62. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

FALMOUTH — The Town Council on Monday unanimously approved increasing councilor compensation  from $40 per meeting – the level it has been for about 20 years – to $75 per meeting, beginning July 1, 2020.

The town will also now allow councilors to receive reimbursements of up to $75 a month for council-related expenses, such as mileage and cell phone use, until June 30, 2020.

Councilors also raised the annual income eligibility for the town’s senior property tax relief program from $30,000 to $40,000, and held a hearing on a zoning correction for property along U.S. Route 1.

Although the fiscal year 2020 budget includes a $15,000 increase for council compensation, the Town Charter stipulates such a hike cannot take effect until the year after the panel approves it.

Compensation was found to be lagging behind other towns, Council Chairwoman Amy Kuhn said.

The reimbursements matter drew more discussion.

Although funds were put into the fiscal year 2020 budget for compensation increases to take effect July 1 this year, as opposed to next year, Councilor Jay Trickett found the Town Charter provision that “specifically states that the year in which you implement the increase in pay, you’re not allowed to take that increase that year,” Town Manager Nathan Poore said.

The reimbursement is retroactive to July 1 of this year – before which there was no reimbursements policy – and is meant to “make up the difference” in the meantime, Poore said. The repayments expire next summer, when the compensation hike takes effect.

The council, which ultimately voted 5-1 in favor of the changes, could discuss next year whether a capped reimbursement along with the compensation is necessary.

“I have very mixed feelings about this,” Trickett, who voted against the reimbursement, said. While he supported next year’s compensation increase, “this expense reimbursement, it feels like we’re just looking for a way to spend allocated money that we otherwise would not spend.”

“The money was allocated,” Councilor Tommy Johnson said, “and I think it just provides a resource for people to serve the Town Council.”

The reimbursement is “pennies on the dollar, and if it helps … some councilors, and some people who may want to consider running for council, I’m all for it,” he added.

Kuhn said she thought the one-year policy would “largely be without impact because I think … most councilors are not going to go through the hassle to submit the forms, in exchange for the $20 a month, or whatever it’s going to come out to.”

Senior tax relief, zoning

Earlier in Monday’s meeting councilors unanimously approved increasing the annual income eligibility limit in Falmouth’s Senior Tax Assistance Program from $30,000 to $40,000 to help broaden access for residents 62 and older.

The town budgeted $75,000 in fiscal year 2019 for the first year of the program, but only ended up spending about $20,000. This year’s budget is $50,000.

Trickett noted that out of about 260 eligible people within the $30,000 cap, only 29 applied. While raising that threshold expands the pool, “it doesn’t do anything to make it more worth the while of the existing people who are already eligible to use it,” he said.

Vice Chairman Ted Asherman said greater promotion of the program is necessary, and Kuhn said participation nearly doubled in the second year of the program in other towns as awareness grew.

The council also held a hearing, but took no action, on a corrective zoning change.

When the Suburban Business 1 district was rezoned in 2013 to create three Village Commercial districts, the commercial property at 168 U.S. Route 1 – Falmouth Dental Arts – was erroneously made part of the Residential B district.

This “scrivener’s error,” as a town summary of the matter calls it, is to be corrected by amending the zoning map to include that property in the Village Commercial 2 district.

The change “would make the existing use of the property conforming again, would result in the property being zoned consistently with the adjacent commercial properties to the north, and would be consistent with what was believed to be the true policy intent of the Council when it created the VC Districts in 2013,” the summary states.

The council is due to vote on the change Aug. 26.

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