TRENTON — The town is in a financially strong position after the 2019-20 fiscal year, according to an audit provided by James Wadman, CPA, of James W. Wadman Certified Public Accountants in Ellsworth.
Wadman shared his analysis at a Jan. 26 meeting of the Board of Selectmen.
According to the audit, the town’s total ending balance is about $1.9 million, with $784,135 of that in surplus funding.
That figure is about 18 percent of the town’s total expenses.
“Being in the 18 percent range is a real, real strong financial position,” Wadman explained.
He said that according to the Maine Municipal Association, the minimum recommended rate for municipalities is 10 to 12 percent.
Wadman said the town had budgeted to reduce its surplus but had actually increased it by $136,912 due to revenues exceeding budget predictions and expenses costing less than budget predictions.
He said that tax collections for the year were better than last year.
While the town had a strong year financially, Selectman Daniel Monahan said some residents may be experiencing financial hardships due to the pandemic, which may be exacerbated by the rate increase requested by Versant Power on Jan. 19.
The roughly 25 percent increase in distribution rates, to be administered over two years, was proposed by the power company to “make necessary investments in system reliability, customer service and operations,” it said in a Jan. 5 letter to its customers.
According to Versant, residential customers with average electricity usage would see their bills rise about $4 per month if the increase is approved by the Maine Public Utilities Commission (Maine PUC).
Monahan moved to submit a public comment to the Maine PUC opposing the rate increase and ask the Maine attorney general and Office of the Public Advocate to intervene in the case.
After posting a poll to the Trenton Town Crier Facebook page looking for input from residents, Monahan said the poll received about 121 responses.
Of those responses, 83 people wanted the board to write a letter to the state attorney general and Office of the Public Advocate to oppose the increase and 13 people wanted the board to submit a public comment.
“I don’t think that’s something the select board should get into,” said Selectman Carlene Hanscom. She said that individual residents have the opportunity to write letters and submit comments on their own.
Selectman John Bennett read the mission of the Maine PUC, which includes ensuring “Maine citizens have access to safe and reliable utilities services at rates that are just and reasonable” for taxpayers. Bennett said the Maine PUC already has a process for determining fair rates.
Monahan said towns have the right to participate in that process.
The motion was not seconded and failed.
Additionally, the board discussed its continued research into broadband expansion.
Selectman Rachel Noble proposed publishing the link to the speed test that ConnectMaine Authority is using to see how well Mainers are being served by their broadband access.
Noble said having Trenton residents participate in the test would provide a better sense regarding how citizens are or are not being served.
“Trenton is not very well represented on the speed map that [ConnectMaine Authority has],” she said.
The link will be placed on the town’s website and Facebook page.
In other business, the School Evaluation Options Committee (SEOC) decided to disband after completing what it set out to do.
The committee, which formed last year, researched cost-saving options for the Trenton Elementary School.
SEOC Chairwoman Susan Sargent presented the Trenton School Committee Jan. 12 with the SEOC’s recommendation for the school to withdraw from Alternative Organizational Structure 91 (AOS 91) and hold a vote of no confidence for AOS 91 Superintendent Marc Gousse.
The School Committee is working on a formal response to the SEOC but voiced its support for Gousse at the Jan. 12 meeting.