Wales Town Meeting draws nearly 100 for contested school director seat

·4 min read

Jun. 12—WALES — Nearly 100 packed into a standing-room only space Saturday at the Town Office for the annual Town Meeting.

In total, residents voted on 39 warrant articles in a meeting moderated by selectman Randall Greenwood.

Greenwood said the large turnout was likely tied to the contested Regional School Unit 4 board of directors election. Last year, just under 50 people participated in the annual Town Meeting.

During the meeting, Selectman Eric Gagnon was elected to his fifth term on the board and Fyfe was elected to complete the final year of a three-year term on the RSU 4 board of directors.

The proposed $1.33 million municipal budget was passed without amendments. The 27% budget increase is $287,000 more than the current spending plan of $1.05 million.

If the proposed $23.1 million school budget is adopted Tuesday, residents of Wales can expect to see an estimated property tax increase of $1.20 per $1,000 of assessed value. At that rate, the owner of a property valued at $100,000 would see an increase of $120.

This calculation includes the municipal, county and proposed school budget.

All 18 expenditure articles were approved. The selectmen recommendation, which was often the same as the Budget Committee and stakeholder recommendations, was chosen for each article.

One article authorized the town to raise $25,000 in overdraft fees from town paving projects and approve up to $30,000 from the undesignated fund in the event of future overdraft. Town Treasurer Sharon Siegel said it was the first time the town has overdrafted.

Residents additionally approved $9,500 in donations for local nonprofit organizations, with the largest amounts allocated to Rural Community Action Ministry ($3,000) and Community Concepts ($2,000).

One article asked residents for authorization to transfer up to $180,000 designated to the Public Works maintenance budget for snow plowing to the capital equipment reserve account if the town is unable to find a contractor to maintain town roads this winter.

If the town cannot find a contractor, Public Works will need to purchase its own snow plow and snow-plowing equipment under state law.

At the start of the meeting, Gagnon presented Amy Raymond with the Spirit of America Award.

As the mother of six, Raymond is deeply involved with RSU 4. She is the current president of the Oak Hill Boosters Club and a member of the Oak Hill Pike Derby Committee. She additionally helped to organize prom in 2021 for Oak Hill High School students.

Incumbent Gagnon ran uncontested for the Board of Selectmen. Fyfe, who will serve a one-year term, was appointed to the board of directors by selectmen last August to finish the second year of a three-year term.

There were 84 voters present during the RSU 4 director election, but only 79 cast ballots. Fyfe, Hannah Dieterich and Jess Smith were nominated for the position.

In the initial election, Fyfe received 30 votes, Dieterich 29 and Smith 20. Town charter requires a majority vote to fill the position, so Smith was dropped from consideration and a runoff election was held.

Fyfe won the seat by a single vote, earning 40 votes to Dieterich's 39.

Following the board of directors' election, roughly one-third of attendees left the meeting.

A solar ordinance targeting commercial developers was also passed by voters following significant discussion. The ordinance details which zones solar farms are allowed in, setback requirements and screening requirements.

"It's not to keep solar farms out, it's to adhere them to guidelines," said Planning Board Chairman Christopher Siegel.

Several residents expressed concern about whether the ordinance contained a clear distinction between residential and commercial development projects. Chairman Siegel responded that residents would continue to be able to put solar panels on their roofs for personal electricity use.

"If we don't pass this, they can really come in and do whatever they want," he said.

A moratorium previously passed by the Board of Selectmen expired this week, according to Sharon Siegel.

One resident pushed back against the statement, commenting that a solar project would still need to go through a site review by the town without the ordinance.

"If we don't pass this, there's a lot less things we can hold solar developers to in this town," Christopher Siegel amended.

The fee schedule referenced in the ordinance has yet to be set, according to Sharon Siegel.