Wiscasset residents will vote on their town’s proposed $6.1 million budget Tuesday, but it’s unclear how the new budget could impact the town’s tax rate.

Spending is up $249,575, or 4.25%, from last year, but Administrative Assistant Kathleen Onorato stressed that spending increase doesn’t directly translate to how it will impact the tax rate.

The town’s new property tax rate will be determined in the fall when administrators perform the tax commitment, which is when a tax assessor calculates the tax rate for residents based on the municipal, county and school budgets.

The main drivers of the budget uptick include a $117,360 increase for the police department, much of which will be used to fund a new full-time police officer position, according to Police Chief Lawrence Heseltine.

“I need more (police officers) than that, but the board was willing to go for one,” said Hesseltine. “We’re also working on a grant to help fund that new position, but that won’t be announced until after the budget.”

The proposed budget also includes a $42,416 jump for public utilities, and a $41,384 rise in transfer station costs, according to town budget documents. Onorato did not return requests for comment Monday on the cause of the increases.

The larger increases are somewhat balanced by a $51,219 reduction in municipal insurance spending and a $20,998 decrease in the town’s parks and recreation budget.

Three candidates compete for two select board seats

Residents will also choose between three candidates to elect two new select board members Tuesday.

Terry Heller, Dusty Jones and Bill Malone are all running for a two-year term as selectman.

Both Heller and Jones, two political newcomers originally from Texas, said they were spurred to run for the position by a conversation in the town about what the future of the district’s high school holds. Both Heller and Jones said they don’t believe closing the school and sending Wiscasset students grades 9-12 to nearby high schools is the answer.

Dusty Jones

Jones said he’d rather help the town grow and modernize to attract new residents and businesses rather than shrink.

“We think we’re well positioned to take advantage of the growth coming from the Portland area,” said Jones. “We want to polish the town for the people who want to come in and use it.”

He pointed to the proposed 20-acre solar farm that, if approved by residents Tuesday, would be built in a wooded area next to the Wiscasset municipal airport runway.

“I’m concerned about the future for our kids and making sure the environment is clean for them,” said Jones. “In combating climate change, we have to have some innovation, but we also have to make sure we’re not cutting down trees for no reason.”

Jones also said he’s interested in helping “get these projects moving to make Wiscasset a modern, dynamic town where people want to stop instead of just pulling over for a couple photos.”

Terry Heller Photo courtesy of Terry Heller

Heller said she was charmed by Wiscasset’s quaint downtown, deep maritime history and tight-knit community and wants to keep those characteristics intact. However, she, like Jones, is interested in seeing the town flourish through economic development.

“It’s important for me to be in a small town where everyone knows one another in the community, and this is a beautiful, caring community.” she said. “We’re beautiful, we have history as a shipbuilding center, and we’re hot for Midcoast tourism. I’d like to help generate some badly-needed economic development.”

Heller also said she wants to encourage more conversation between people on either side of whatever issues may come up in the future.

“There are other divisions in our society that need to be healed, and I want people to be able to discuss those divisions,” said Heller. “If people are part of the conversation and decision-making, they’re far more informed and there’s more goodwill. As beautiful as this town is, we could use more conversation.”

Malone was unavailable for comment Monday.

Committee to look at high school’s future

Wiscasset residents are also being asked to allow the town to create a committee charged with studying “the future of the Wiscasset School Department” that would include “all options for expansion, consolidation, or continuing the status quo,” according to town warrant documents.

Selectmen and Town Manager Dennis Simmons said during a March meeting they’ve been asked by residents for years what the financial impact of ceasing instruction for grades 9-12 would be but have never acted on the question.

Simmons said in March this committee, if created, would “finally take that question, look at if it would be less expensive to tuition students out, and put it to bed one way or another.”

Selectmen stressed this committee wouldn’t be charged with closing Wiscasset Middle High School.

“This is merely looking into the financial impact of (ceasing grades) 9-12 and tuitioning them to the school of their choice,” Vice-chair Katharine Martin-Savage told The Times Record in March.

Residents will vote on the annual town meeting referendum vote on Tuesday, June 8. Voting will take place at the Wiscasset Community Center from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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