December 15, 2019

Essex Town Budget Defeated on 114-81 Vote

ESSEX— Voters at the annual budget meeting Monday rejected a proposed $21.59 million town budget plan on a 114-81 paper ballot vote, marking the first defeat of a town government budget for Essex in decades.

Residents packed the auditorium at town hall to discuss and vote on a 2011-2012 spending plan that included a $6,782,158 town government budget and a $7,407,790 appropriation for Essex Elementary School. A third component of the spending package, the town’s $7,406,944 share of the Region 4 education budget, had already been approved in a May 3 referendum.

The total $21,596,892 spending plan was expected to require a small increase in the current tax rate of 17.63 mills, though Selectman Norman Needleman told the crowd the board of finance could endorse a transfer from the town’s undesignated fund balance to further limit the size of any possible tax increase. The fund balance currently contains about $2.2 million.

The town government budget, which represents a 4.37 increase over current spending, generated the most discussion. Strickland Hyde objected to a proposed new full-time position with the town highway department, which currently has five full-time employees. Hyde said 2011 was not the year to establish a new position at a cost of $35,000 plus the expense for medical benefits.

Paul Forrest questioned a $120,000 contingency fund that was included with the appropriation for the board of finance. Board Chairman Jim Francis said the amount was a total contingency fund for all town departments, boards and commissions, with special appropriations from the fund requiring approval from the finance board and voters at a town meeting. Forrest contended contingency funds should be available from past fiscal years if appropriations from the fund totaled between $30,000 to $40,000 in most years.

After about an hour of discussion, voters formed to lines two show proof of identification to the two registrars of voters and receive a paper ballot. After the result was announced, Francis said the finance board would meet later this week to consider targets for reductions in both the town government and elementary school budgets. Francis said a revised budget would be presented for approval in a referendum expected later this month.