Close to 120 voters filled the Blue Hill Consolidated School gymnasium for the business portion of annual town meeting on Saturday, April 6. The meeting was marked by its intense level of procedural wrangling—which included multiple amendments and written ballots—as well as its length, at more than six and a half hours.
The meeting, moderated by Bob Granger, took many turns and twists and suffered from a number of procedural missteps along the way. Due to the amount of times where a clear decision about the appropriate (and legal) path forward using parliamentary procedure was anything but clear, it finally led longtime selectman John Bannister to laugh aloud and call it “the town meeting from hell” at about hour five.
It was only a handful of the warrant’s 87 articles that caused discussion, with many, including a brand new $6,000 appropriation for the Tree of Life food pantry, passing with near unanimous approval.
When all was said and done voters supported a $4.56 million school budget and a roughly $2 million municipal budget. The school budget is up roughly 4.38 percent (or $190,000) while the municipal budget shows a 1.3 percent (or $10,000) increase over the current budget.
In an election that preceded the business portion of town meeting, voters overwhelmingly reseated Jim Schatz to another three-year term on the board of selectmen. Schatz beat out challenger Ron Coté by a three to one margin.
In a second race for an open selectman’s seat, Vaughn Leach narrowly defeated Ellen Best, with three other candidates trailing at the polls.
$60,000 for a Pre-K program?
This year’s town meeting saw the school warrant articles at the top of the meeting agenda, and five articles in, an amendment was made to add $60,000 to an instructional budget line item for the purpose of creating a “quality pre-K program.”
Introduced by Denise Black and garnering enough signatures to be in the form of a written ballot, the amendment was not fully supported by the school board whose members said that while they had begun to investigate a pre-K program, they decided to hold off this year due to budget concerns. “I am not certain that $60,000 gets a quality program,” said board member John Richardson.
During the 2012 town meeting, voters were polled in a non-binding straw pole about a pre-K program at a cost of $61,000. The vote then, 176 to 104, in support of the program, gave the board direction to pursue it, said superintendent Mark Hurvitt, who added, “but when we saw how the numbers broke we felt the timing was not right for this year,” he said of the board’s ultimate decision to hold back on the program.
The addition of a pre-K program would have put the school at capacity in terms of its classroom space and as a result the Spanish classroom would have been used for pre-K and the Spanish teacher, Sarah Brown, who spoke at the meeting against the timing of the additional program, displaced. This led former Union 76 Superintendent and Blue Hill resident Bob Webster to say that in addition to pre-K, the town may need further discussions about its facility.
While voters ultimately did not support the amendment to add money to the budget, by a vote of 53 to 65, many suggested that the school board continue to work on the logistics of having a program in the future.
Mill Pond Lane
Written in the warrant was an article seeking approval for the board of selectmen to sell the tax acquired property located at 8 Mill Pond Lane and negotiate the terms of such sale with the Greene-based Clark Mountain Community Land Trust.
This article, also to be taken up by written ballot as requested by Bill Grindle and signed by 10 of the town’s citizens, drew much discussion about the selectmen and their ability to negotiate an agreement that would garner voter support. The article was amended by Eckley Herrick to require the board to return to voters with a finalized sale agreement at a special referendum that will follow a public hearing. Voters approved the amended measure by majority written ballot.
Representatives from the trust were present at the meeting and spoke briefly about their organization. Director Daphne Loring said they were willing to negotiate with the town to see if the Mill Pond property is “a fit for our organization.”
In other business voters approved the allocation of $80,000 from undesignated funds to study the dredging of the inner harbor. The money would be sent to the Army Corps of Engineers which would pay for the remainder of the study. Once complete the town would get into line for the actual dredging, which would be paid for by 90 percent federal dollars and 10 percent local dollars. The estimated cost is expected to be no more than $1 million, with the Army Corps paying for future maintenance. A timetable is unknown at this time.
Voters nixed an article that would have sold a town-owned right of way to abutting neighbor Blue Hill Garage. The right of way, which is problematic in its location and title, explained Bannister, was offered to the garage for $5,000 by the board of selectmen. Phil Black, chairman of the marine resources committee, moved to strike language regarding the sale from the warrant article, leaving the second part of it, which asked for approval to sell an old cattle pound in roughly the same area. His amendment was supported by a majority of voters. The cattle pound also has a problematic history and title, said Bannister, and the voters—with little discussion—agreed to sell that.