Town Meeting News

(from Maine Townsman, June 2007)
By Liz Chapman, Freelance Writer

Maine’s town meeting season continued into June as many towns now have fiscal years that coincide with state and school fiscal calendars. In many communities, voters were in a grouchy spending mood and rejected many significant projects in large and small communities alike.

Meanwhile, municipal budgets were being wrapped up in many of the 50, or so, communities that have vested budget approval authority to an elected council rather than town meeting.

Bar Harbor voters struck down a proposed ordinance to ban smoking in vehicles in which children are present. That leaves the city of Bangor alone in imposing the new restriction.

Voters in Bar Harbor did approve spending $1 million toward the cost of a 31-unit “workforce housing” project that will increase housing opportunities for people who work in the resort town but cannot now afford to rent or buy a dwelling.

On primary election day, voters in Benton reverse the decision of the March town meeting and decided to make the town clerk’s position elected, not appointed. The vote was 261-154 in favor of electing the clerk. The town meeting vote involved a much smaller number of people, deciding by a 26-14 vote to make the position appointed.

Berwick voters, by a 2-to-1 margin, defeated an article that would have allowed the recall of selectmen. The initiative, which failed on a 300-139 vote, was pushed by a citizens’ group.

Camdenvoters rejected an article at the annual town meeting on June 13 that would have appropriated $107,400 to fund the local dispatch center. It appears now that the town’s dispatching function will be turned over to the Regional Communications Center in Rockland. Ironically, in a non-binding referendum vote the day before, during the primary election, Camden residents by a 708-645 vote said they wanted to retain the local dispatching services.

Cumberlandvoters rejected a request to buy waterfront property for public access to the town’s only lake. The measure failed by a 995-739 vote. Residents along the lake protested the idea out of fear of overcrowding, lower property values and milfoil infestation. The vote overturns a unanimous decision by the town council, which was prepared to pay $318,000 for three acres along Forest Lake.

Jay voters were in a particularly frugal mood in June when they voted down the school budget, including $2 million in local money to leverage state aid, about $80,000 for adult education, $76,600 for tennis court repairs and $2,500 for the new pulp and paper museum. Voters authorized selectmen to transfer $500,000 to the school department for operational expenses while school officials trim the rejected budget before sending it back to voters. Jay voters also rejected, by a 2-1 margin, an article to raise $200,250 for emergency dispatch services, which means that the town’s dispatching will now be handled by the county.

­ In Phippsburg, voters defeated a proposed ordinance to allow the town rescue service to impose fees to cover rising costs. Town voters were more accommodating to the road crew, which will receive a raise from $11.35 an hour to $15.50.

Skowhegan voters might have cost themselves a bit of money when they rejected a plan to allow the county jail to hook into the town’s sewer system. The chair of the county commissioners called the 499-497 vote “heart-wrenching”. It could mean Skowhegan will have to pay a full third of the cost of a separate system for the jail that would be built by the county.

It was the second rejection of the same request in as many years.

In Standish, voters continued a growing trend in Maine by voting to borrow $654,250 for road reconstruction and public works equipment.

Wells town meeting voters passed a $13.4 million budget in early May, discharging nearly 50 articles in less than two hours. The item most debated was a request for $50,000 for mosquito and tick control, which passed after a 30-minute discussion. In secret balloting, voters approved forming a charter commission to draft the town’s first charter. They also elected six members to the commission from a field of 11 candidates. The vote was 455-198 in favor of forming a charter commission.

In Westbrook in late May, referendum voters decided against changing the town charter to allow selectmen to appoint the city clerk. The city has had just two clerks since 1956.

About 50 residents turned out for the Winter Harbor town meeting. An article requesting $550,000 to improve sidewalks and subsurface draining in the downtown area was lowered to $400,000 before being approved. Voters also authorized a $150,000 community development grant to fund streetlights, benches and other amenities in the downtown area.