Topsham residents vote from their car Wednesday during a drive-in town meeting at the Topsham Fairgrounds. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

TOPSHAM — Topsham voters on Wednesday approved a $13.5 million municipal budget that is expected to drop the tax rate by 1.3%.

The municipal budget is a $655,579 increase from the 2019-2020 fiscal year. The Maine School Administrative District 75 budget would increase taxes in Topsham $62,066 and the Sagadahoc County budget is increasing taxes $78,464.

The municipal budget uses surplus funds to help offset taxes and pay for capital expenses. Town Manager Derek Scrapchansky has estimated the tax rate will drop from $19.15 per $1,000 of assess value to $18.90 per $1,000. The owner of a home valued at $200,000 would see their tax bill drop by $50.

The budget assumes the town will see a 15% decrease in excise taxes compared to 2019 due to financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Scrapchasnsky. He’s also budgeted for flat municipal revenue sharing from the state.

Voters approved a $248,245 increase in the general government budget, which some residents opposed. Guy Erdmann argued that the town shouldn’t increase the spending during the coronavirus pandemic when residents and businesses in the area have faced economic hardships.

“You have scores of people out of work and struggling and trying to make ends meet and here you giving yourself raises?” he said.

Select board Chair Dave Douglass said the majority of the town employee wages are tied to contracts.

“We don’t have the ability to take away what they’ve signed as a contract,” Douglass said.

Phil Grubbs argued that the town continually increases the budget at rates “substantially above the rate of inflation.”

While the town is using surplus funds to offset the spending increase this year, “that till will run dry at some point,” Grubbs said. “A lot of people don’t have the money to keep carrying that.”

Residents also approved a zoning change regulating public groundwater protection by a 47-42 vote. The revisions strengthen development requirements around the aquifer by the Brunswick and Topsham Water District on River Road that provides public drinking water.

However, it removes these water protection standards in the Bay Park subdivision area and along a western section of the Androscoggin River.

Jeanette MacNeille of Brookside Drive said she sees no justification for loosening the water protection requirements in town.

“We all drink well water,” she said. “I don’t see any reason to not protect the area in which we live.”

Town Planner Rod Melanson said the changes were proposed so the town can better enforce the groundwater protection rules. There is no evidence the areas like Bay Park that are now released from the tougher standards even have aquifers — rock or sentiment containing groundwater.

“It does not work out or comport to any understanding of why were protecting non-aquifers,” he told The Times Record on Thursday.

The state still has standards that protect groundwater from larger, high-impact projects, Melanson said.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic limiting the number of people allowed at public gatherings, the town held the drive-in town meeting at the Topsham Fairgrounds. The meeting was broadcast over the radio and voters held up red sheets of paper outside their vehicle windows to vote. The meeting spanned a little longer than an hour.

There were 126 registered voters attending the meeting out of approximately 7,800 registered voters in town.

Jeanette MacNeille speaks against aquifer protection zone boundary changes at the Topsham town meeting at the Topsham Fairgrounds Wednesday. Darcie Moore / The Times Record


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