LITCHFIELD — Town officials are moving forward with a new arrangement for animal sheltering services and expect to have a contract in place next month.
Residents successfully petitioned to have the matter included on the Town Meeting warrant on Saturday, directing officials to negotiate a contract with the Kennebec Valley Humane Society. Some residents were concerned that the town was using a retrofitted box trailer to temporarily house stray animals and that they did not accept surrenders.
Issues with the animal shelter were first brought to the town’s attention during a March select board meeting, when Kennebec Valley Humane Society Director of Operations Stevanie Scott consider the town to reconsider a contract with their Augusta facility.
She said staff at the humane society are trained to perform minor medical procedures and can also transport animals to veterinarians if necessary, and that the town is taking a step in the wrong direction by having a shelter that does not accept surrendered animals.
Town officials have defended the C&J Animal Shelter, citing an estimated $2,000 savings compared to going with the humane society, and both Town Manager Kelly Weissenfels and Selectman Rayna Leibowitz attested to C&J owner John Alexander’s love of animals. Leibowitz said in April that the town’s animals are in good hands with him, and that he even took a dog home with him so it did not have to spend the night in the shelter.
Concerned that the town would not include an option to contract with the Kennebec Valley Humane Society during the town meeting, residents began circulating a petition that would include a question on the warrant.
The petition received 224 signatures, going well above the required 173.
Weissenfels said this was the lengthiest topic of discussion during the nearly three hour meeting last Saturday. He said residents spoke on behalf of contracting with the Kennebec Valley Humane Society and others spoke about why the situation was the C&J Shelter was not as bad as people were making it appear on social media.
The town has already received a draft contract from the humane society, and expect to have a formal contract in place by the first of July. Weissenfels said the contract will likely be discussed at their next selectboard meeting, scheduled for June 27 at 6:30 pm
In other matters at the Town Meeting, residents also approved an additional $60,000 to the municipal budget to help cover contingency costs for repairing the Woodbury Pond Dam. If seepage with the dam is not addressed, it could lead to making the road over the dam impassable, lower water levels in some of the five Tacoma Lakes, and lower surrounding property values.
Last week, officials approved a $115,000 bid to repair the dam from Chesterfield Associates Inc. of Westport Island, which involves using a sheet pile cutoff wall.
During the Saturday town meeting, voters also motioned to offset the expense budget with $300,000 from the general fund, as opposed to $200,000, however this motion failed.
“The general feeling seemed to be that with the uncertainty of the economy, and the potential impact of beginning to pay for an RSU 4 school addition next year, we should conserve our funds,” Weissenfels said.
Overall, this year’s budget totals $2,974,223, a $151,989 increase over the previous year’s spending plan. As with many central Maine towns, inflation drove much of the increases, but the town was able to offset these with a combination of general fund money and cuts throughout other town departments.
Hauling costs for the transfer station nearly doubled, and the cost of diesel fuel, plus sand and salt prices jumping by about 27%, led to increases in Public Works as well.
Nearly $30,000 was cut from special projects, $66,000 was cut from special projects, and several smaller cuts throughout the budget ranging from a few hundred dollars to $5,000 all contributed to minimizing the impacts of major budget increases.
“Department heads have worked hard to adjust where possible,” Weissenfels said, “but increased costs of parts and a competitive labor market have made it difficult to do much more than blunt the increases.”
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