Originally published in The Weekly Packet, April 25, 2019
Surry approves budget, slashes interest rate on unpaid taxes
Surry Selectmen, from left, Steve Bemiss, Bill Matlock, and (outgoing) Rebecca Collison respond to voters’ questions at town meeting April 22.
by Anne Berleant
Voters made quick work of town meeting April 22, while amending the proposed 9-percent interest rate on unpaid taxes to 7 percent and bundling school articles totaling $2,734,073 into a handful of votes.
“Do we have to do each of the school budget [articles] separately?” asked one voter. “Because we’re going to vote ‘yes’ for them anyway.”
Superintendent Mark Hurvitt gave a summary of the proposed expenditures and “the big ticket item,” reconfiguring the school parking lot to handle increased congestion and traffic for $45,000. “We really need it,” he assured voters before 10 of the 14 education articles were approved in one vote. A written ballot to fill the funding gap between the state calculation and the school board recommendation was approved 58-4, with Hurvitt explaining how 87 percent of Maine schools raise more than the state minimum because the formula “is not favorable to small schools.”
The 2019-20 budget is up $92,017 or 3.48 percent for 192 pre-K through 12th grade Surry students, mainly from a rise in the number of high school students. Surry pays about $11,800 tuition per student to the high school of their choice.
Citizens also found favor with municipal articles totaling $1,189,067, funded by $423,572 in property tax, $125,000 from surplus and about $450,000 in excise taxes, with the remainder coming from reserve accounts. The increase is about $77,000.
A few questions arose, such as questioning the $60,000 budgeted for road construction. Jonathan Thomas asked what work was scheduled for the year.
“The project for this year is small projects that have been overlooked for years,” Selectman Steve Bemiss said, such as filling cracks in the pavement.
“Can people make suggestions?” asked Betsy Armstrong, elected to the board of selectmen 100-93 over Ralph Topham on April 19.
“Not now,” Bemiss replied.
The interest rate on unpaid taxes generated the only debate, with voters finding the new state maximum of 9 percent unreasonably high. After voters were informed there was no state minimum, a motion to amend the rate to “negotiable” failed while a second amendment to lower the rate to 7 percent easily passed.
Voters also received thanks from Gete Thompson for donations and volunteer work for the Old Village School House, the renovations of which are 99 percent complete, and from Treasurer Tom Welgoss and school board chairman Joan Welgoss for donations to the school Backpack Program, which sends food home to 35 elementary school students each weekend, and will continue throughout the summer.
“We couldn’t do it without you,” Joan Welgoss said.
Betsy Armstrong 100
Ralph Topham 93
Betsy Armstrong 93
Ralph Topham 89
General Assistance Administrator
Betsy Armstrong 111
Ralph Topham 80
Donald Driscoll 108
Patricia Jencks 160