Wednesday, April 23, 2014
FARMINGTON — Selectmen voted 3-2 to remove the option of funding two charities from the annual Town Meeting warrant.
Selectmen who voted against the measure said the American Red Cross and domestic violence advocacy group Safe Voices are county-wide charities and funding should be approved at the county level, not the municipal level, though they said they weren’t sure if the county was accepting new nonprofit organizations on their list of funded agencies.
In this year’s budget, the town gave $5,000 to Safe Voice and $2,000 to the American Red Cross. That accounted for 0.2 percent of the $4.9 million budget.
The board members split on the decision along familiar lines, with Chairman Ryan Morgan, Andrew Hufnagel and Joshua Bell voting in favor of removing the outside agencies from the warrant, while Selectmen Dennis Pike and Jessica Berry voted against.
While the requests from charities account for a small fraction of the budget, they traditionally prompt split votes among town officials and lengthy debate from residents.
Town Manager Richard Davis said the debate in part comes from a philosophical difference on whether town residents should be compelled to support nonprofit groups through taxes.
Bell proposed the town cut the charities because the town has to save any way it can in the difficult upcoming fiscal year. He also said the town gets dozens of requests for funding every year, and it’s difficult to choose which few are deserving.
Farmington faces a $190,305 cut from municipal revenue sharing in the 2014 fiscal year, according to the Maine Municipal Association. Davis said he is not anticipating receiving any revenue sharing this budget cycle.
If the town can’t offset the loss through cuts in services and expenses, it will have to either raise taxes, raid surplus money, or opt for a combination of the choices.
The town’s tax rate is $15.75 per $1,000 of valuation, down 5 percent from last year because town property was revalued at a higher rate.
Pike said while supporting the charities increases the town budget, the selectmen should honor the “purest form of democracy” and let the voters make the final call, which has traditionally has been to fund the charities.
He said the groups provide social services that residents would otherwise be coming right to the government for.
“I think the public is capable and should be allowed to have that final say,” he said.Kaitlin Schroeder — firstname.lastname@example.org‘