June 06, 2020

Administrative assistant’s post topic of debate

PALMYRA — Palmyra selectmen and residents debated several issues Wednesday night, including the possible elimination of both the administrative assistant’s position and a previously approved purchase of a recycling truck.

There was speculation among the residents that the two issues were closely related and that a personality conflict and a power struggle had erupted between the board and the current administrator, former Selectman Pat White.

Because the regional use of the recycling truck would call for the administrative assistant’s position to remain in place, residents said that the move to stop the truck purchase was actually a “back-door” tactic to remove White from his position.

First Selectman Dan Pettingill said that he favored turning the position into a part-time clerical position. He suggested two four-hour afternoons at a yearly wage of $2,000. The change to an administrative assistant form of government was approved at the 1990 annual town meeting.

Pettingill was also in favor of dropping the purchase of the recycling truck. He presented a petition to the board that he said was given to him by state Rep. Robert Tardy, a Palmyra resident, that called for the reconsideration of the truck purchase. On the petition were 85 signatures, including those of three of the five selectmen, and it was turned over to Town Clerk Donna Page to verify those names.

Pettingill said that although he was personally in favor of recycling, and the truck, he felt that the truck could be used efficiently only as a regional service and he felt that Palmyra was not ready to coordinate, or provide, that service.

Several residents countered that Palmyra has used the services of other surrounding communities for many years, including fire and police protection, and that this was a good opportunity for the community to be a leader in the region in recycling.

According to White, the truck was approved for purchase at the March 1990 town meeting. The Maine Solid Waste Management Agency granted $40,312 toward the purchase and Palmyra voted to take $14,500 from surplus as the town’s share. Preliminary specifications for bids were mailed this past week, said White, after the selectmen approved the mailing two weeks ago.

After 10 minutes of discussion about the truck and the petition, Pettingill told the audience they “were tying up time,” and called for a vote on the petition. Rather than voting, the board opted to have Page verify the signatures. The residents pressed on, however, and when the issues were raised later in the meeting during budget discussion, they spoke out again.

Several residents stated that to fail to purchase the truck and to eliminate the assistant’s position would be “a step backwards” for Palmyra. Bud Lewis said, “To eliminate the position would be a definite move backward. There will be much more work coming — paperwork from the state and so on. I can’t see the selectmen doing it all. I don’t think the selectmen could get the job done one-quarter as well as the A.A.” Sylvia Cray pointed out that the new population figures for Palmyra indicate 1,861 residents.

She said that services for that many residents would take up more time than the current board of selectmen had to give. Kathy Hood commented that during the summer months many selectmen’s meetings had to be canceled because of a lack of quorum.

Selectman George Cray agreed, stating that “for the money we get paid ($500 a year), I don’t have the time to do all the extra work” that would fall to the selectmen if the A.A.’s position were cut.

Mathys Van Dam said, “In the past several years, Palmyra has become very forward thinking, both through their recycling and other programs that the A.A. has initiated. We should be moving forward, not backward. The truck would not be a gamble for this town. The town cannot lose. We are going to pay for recyclables, no matter what.”

Pettingill said, “For the town of Palmyra to get into regional recycling would require more administrative overhead costs. A recycling truck on a regional basis is a good idea, but not good for Palmyra.”

Selectman Jack Lynch expressed his feelings that the $7,000 a year maintenance fee would mushroom in the future. “`What I’m really trying to anticipate,” he said, “are some contingencies. I don’t want to be sitting here 18 months from now with a budget that began at $8,000 a year and has gone to $25,000.”

The board voted to submit the figures for the recycling truck operation and the administrative assistant’s salary ($19,000) to the budget committee for review.

The Palmyra budget committee is not a formal group, Page explained, but consists of any interested resident that attends the hearing. It is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 3, at the town hall.

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