Central Maine municipalities are beginning to plan in-person town meetings for July despite social gatherings of more than 50 people being prohibited.

Meanwhile, Gov. Janet Mills’ office has been working with the Maine Municipal Association to prepare an executive order regarding town meetings, but details of that order were scarce Friday.

According to Mills’ reopening plan, July and August’s phase restricts social gatherings to no more than 50 people.

Additionally, Mills said during a Wednesday press briefing that she did not “want people to have town meetings in a traditional sense,” and an order was being prepared to address town meetings.

“The legislation allows the towns to carry over budgets month to month,” she said. “We really don’t want the public to congregate in that manner.”

Spokespeople for Mills’ office were not available for comment on that order by press time.

Eric Conrad, spokesperson for the Maine Municipal Association, confirmed that the organization has worked with the governor’s office on an order, but could not speak as to the details covered in it or when it would be made official. He said it was difficult to give blanket guidance for town meetings for all municipalities because some issues may be “fact-specific.”

Earlier this week, Whitefield officials scheduled their Town Meeting for July 18, despite potential of reaching social gathering limits of 50. While those restrictions could make it difficult for residents to participate if that number is surpassed, Whitefield Select Board Member Charlene Donahue said it was “more important” for people to express their right to vote.

Farmingdale Town Clerk Rose Webster said she would cancel the Town Meeting if more than 50 people were likely to attend. That cancellation would complicate the results of the town’s July 14 ballots, which include two selectboard races. Webster said ballots would have to remain sealed until the open meeting resumed.

Webster said about 70 people usually attend Farmingdale’s Town Meetings, but the attendance has been as low as 40 recently. She worried that attendance could be strong due to boredom, despite no controversial items on the warrant.

“People are showing up in droves on everything right now because they’re bored,” Webster said. “They’re overwhelming these restaurants.”

Washington Town Clerk Mary Anderson said Town Meeting usually brings in around 50, but the town would need to open the meeting for all to attend.

“I’m actually hoping the governor makes an exception for municipalities and allows more than 50 to gather,” she said. “Going from 10 to 50 on June 1 is a huge jump, so maybe she’ll let more meet in July.”

Anderson said her town could not hold a secret ballot-only Town Meeting because some items require discussion on the floor.

Chelsea Town Manager Scott Tilton said a 50-person limit was not considered a concern for their Town Meeting as it usually gets about 35 to 40 attendees. He couldn’t say if people would be turned away if more than 50 attended.

Webster also expressed a problem with running the budget month-by-month based on the last fiscal year’s budget. She said some items in the budget, like county taxes and school funding, may increase from last year’s budget, causing headaches when the new budget is approved at Town Meeting.

Webster said she didn’t know about setting property tax commitments under that month-to-month scenario. “You’d do the commitment based on last year, then you’d have to do a recommitment,” she said. ” I could be wrong because no one has given us guidance on it.”

In Hallowell, where the City Council government requires no annual Town Meeting, City Manager Nate Rudy said the city will continue with its practice of three budget readings before the spending plan is made official, with the last tentatively scheduled for July 15. Rudy said the council will consider a resolution to use last year’s budget to cover payroll until the new budget is passed, which he said “has been common practice” in the city.

When asked if he was worried about potentially recommitting taxes, Rudy said city officials “haven’t had that discussion in depth yet.”

“I think it will be hard for any municipality to know for certain where state revenues and school expenses will be until we get more clear guidance from the state and the (school district),” he said.

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