HUNTINGTON —With an unusually large amount of free cash available this year to the town, most of the discussion from residents during Town Meeting last week was on several articles on the warrant related to using it for increase town employee salaries and fund accounts for future unanticipated needs.

“It’s about retaining people,” said outgoing Selectboard Chair Ed Renauld after several questions were raised about the salary increases for several town positions that exceeded the expected 4% cost of living raise.

Before Town Moderator George W. Peterson III began reading Article 6, which asked the approximately 50 residents attending the meeting to approve the town’s annual budget, he said if there were questions about any line item, to say “hold.”

It only took about two minutes before Susan McIntosh, a Conservation Commission member, said “hold” on the salary of Town Treasurer Aimee Burnham.

Renauld, responding to McIntosh, said that over the past several years the town has had a problem keeping people and pointed to a situation that occurred last year when Highway Supervisor Chip Dazelle resigned and a new supervisor was hired. The new employee left after a few months left to take a position with the state’s Department of Transportation. Huntington needs to keep pace with what other towns are paying for positions requiring specialized knowledge like finance and engineering, Renauld said.

“We have to make it competitive for some of these positions so they’re not so out of whack,” Renauld said.

After Renauld’s explanation, the only other question regarding employee raises was about the Fire Department’s hourly wage, which, according to the budget, also increased by 0.78%.

Renauld assured residents call firefighters would also see a 4% increase, but money to pay those increased wages would be approved at next year’s Town Meeting, when the amount needed becomes apparent.

There was also a budget question from a resident about an increase in the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals expenses from $1,200 to $4,950 and $500 to $3,500, respectively.

Planning Board member Linda Hamlin responded by saying that members of both boards, who before Town Meeting were unpaid volunteers, have indicated they are less inclined to serve if they’re not paid, and that there were open positions on both boards that need filling.

Starting July 1, the members of the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals will be paid $750 annually.

Questions were also raised about creating a new assistant for the highway supervisor, with an annual salary of $16,441.

Highway Supervisor Brad Curry said having the assistant would allow him to spend more time focusing on the roads than doing paperwork.

With all the budget questions addressed, residents unanimously approved the town’s fiscal year 2025 budget of $6,589,005, which was a 2.83% increase from FY24.

Residents also approved the annual allocation to the Gateway Regional School of $3,078,646. They also approved $904,898 to pay for tuition for students that go out of district for vocational education, and $88,459 for vocational transportation costs.

Related to school funding, voters approved using $100,000 in free cash to create an Education Stabilization Account for future educational funding.

Residents also approved using free cash to add $50,000 to the town’s general stabilization fund, $15,000 to the Capital Equipment Stabilization Fund, and $40,000 to purchase a new pavement roller for the Highway Department.

As the meeting wound down, Article 17, which asked voters to approve borrowing $173,000 to purchase a new backhoe and loader. Dazelle, the former highway supervisor and still a town resident,  argued against borrowing the money, saying the town didn’t need additional debt, the town’s current Highway Department equipment was adequate, and that private contractors could do most of the work the backhoe-loader would be used for. Needing a two-thirds vote to pass a borrowing authorization, the article failed.

Article 18 on the warrant was a request to voters to increase the number of library trustees from three to six. The Selectboard recommended a “no” vote. Renauld said he believed that by increasing the number of members would make it harder to achieve a quorum during meetings. He also said that if residents approved the article, which would immediately create the seats, the Library Trustees wouldn’t be able to reach a quorum until municipal elections took place next year. After discussion, a motion was made to table the article, which was approved by Town Meeting.

The warrant’s last article was to amend the town’s general bylaws to include: “The annual fee for dog licenses will be as follows: $6 neutered male and spayed female, $10 for intact male or intact female dog.”  The article passed with only 2 voting “no.”