On Saturday, June 1, voters passed town and school articles as written in a town meeting that long-time resident Doris Russell called “the shortest and least controversial in 63 years.”
A 2013-14 town budget of $1,984,503, up $34,908 or 1.8 percent from last year, unanimously passed. The school budget of $1,387,474—plus $18,000 for a special education reserve and $3,000 for a capital improvement reserve—represented a 4.1 percent increase over last year. It passed with a majority vote. Taxation to pay for the combined budgets will increase around 11 percent. Lower state and local revenues and a significantly lower school budget surplus are behind the sharp rise. Last year a $150,000 surplus helped defray the amount raised from taxation for the current school budget; this year that amount is $25,000.
Articles asking voters to approve a new zoning ordinance and a contract zoning permission passed with wide margins.
Castine last passed a zoning ordinance in 2000. The newly adopted one is “a scaled back ordinance” of the version voters narrowly defeated last November, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Peter Vogell said.
“Where are the changes?” asked Patrick Irving.
Voters were presented with “essentially the same ordinance as we have as to what uses are allowed in what zones,” said Town Manager Dale Abernethy. The new ordinance gives the CEO authority to issue building permits for single and two-family residences instead of the Planning Board, allows the farmers’ market to be held on the town common, streamlines language and definitions and brings it in line with state requirements.
Will the new ordinance put Castine in compliance with the state and the Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2010? asked one voter.
Abernethy said it would not. “We have much more zoning work to do…The Comprehensive Plan or ordinance—either one is subject to be amended.”
Voters approved the new ordinance 84-9.
Selectmen plan to hold a special town meeting in August or September to vote, article by article, on land use changes that proved controversial at public hearings before a November 2012 vote.
“This gives us a framework from which to start,” said Selectman David Unger.
A request by Doug Koos to rezone approximately 4.5 acres on Route 166A from mobile home park use to multifamily use passed 83-9. Koos plans to build 16 units in three or four buildings with at least eight units deeded as affordable. “In reality, probably all of them will be,” said Koos.
“Affordable housing” is defined by the new zoning ordinance as within the means of families earning 125 percent of the Hancock County median annual income, or around $55,000-$57,000.
“It is my goal to provide housing so families can come to town,” said Koos. “Young families with jobs in town don’t want to live in a mobile home park.” Instead, he said, they choose neighboring towns like Penobscot. “Hopefully their money will stay in our town, and their volunteerism.”
“Everybody has talked about affordable housing for years. The town needs it; the school board approves it,” said school board member Joe Spinazola.
The vote to continue a part-time economic development consultant position, at $30,000 a year, passed 61-48, following questions from the floor.
“Can someone explain the value we have received for this?” asked Dick Read.
Sue Walsh, who holds the consultancy position, said that $18,000 was raised by economic development projects and $10,000 to $12,000 through donated goods.
“It’s baby steps and it grows,” said Walsh. “If you want to make money, you have to spend money.”
Richard Armstrong, chairman of the newly formed Community and Economic Development Committee, said that the consultant organizes and formalizes volunteers, and that the position may not be needed next year. “Ask the hard questions a year from now,” he said.
A $3,000 request for July 4th fireworks passed by close voice vote, after Fire Chief Randy Stearns said department volunteers had voted against organizing the firework display this year.
“That’s the way it stands,” said Stearns. “They want to stay home with their families.”
Jim Goodson pointed out a “disconnect” between efforts at economic development “and the fire department wanting the day off.”
The department will still run all other July 4th events,” said firefighter Tom Gutow, including fire engine rides and traffic management for the parade.
“It seems this should be a decision of the town as a whole, not the fire department,” said Gordon MacArthur.
“Who’s going to do it if the fire department isn’t?” asked Read.
That question was briefly debated, including the training needed to direct traffic for the event. If no other plan for bringing fireworks to town is successful, the $3,000 will go into next year’s fund.
School articles were voted on first, and after the annual discussion of whether Adams School is too small to be funded, a written vote on local appropriation of $525,563 portion of the total $1,387,474 budget passed 81-14. The voice vote on the remainder of the budget had a lone nay vote.
“What is the tipping point when we can no longer afford Adams School?” asked Tom Comiciotto.
“Close the school and we’re going in the opposite direction” of economic development, said Read.
The town would have saved $250,000 by sending students to other schools,” a worthwhile investment, said Tony Politano, “Without the school, we might as well close up shop.”
When asked if the number of students stays consistent, board member Joe Spinazola had a succinct reply:
“The long-term issue is where’s a young family going to live in Castine? The trailer park or the edge of town…Until we change that, we’re not going to see a change in [school] population.”
School population stands at 51 pre-K through eighth-grade and 34 high school students. Projections from 10 years ago estimated the current Adams School population at 38, said Spinazola.
Long-term projecting is flawed, said Jessica Rollerson. “The formula will change if more people come in [to Castine].”
Voters approved a $35,046 increase in school operation and maintenance, with most of the increase marked to pay for needed repairs to the 1835 building.
Regardless of where Castine students attend school, “the building will have to be maintained,” said School Board Chairman Kathy MacArthur.
At the meeting’s start, voters approved an article allowing non-voter property owners to speak “to at least allow them to have a voice…and to hear the views of that segment of the population,” said Selectman Unger. However, while perhaps a dozen of these nonvoters attended the meeting, none spoke.