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by Rich Hewitt
Residents breezed through the annual town meeting warrant at a brisk pace Tuesday, March 5, dispatching articles with few questions and little discussion.
Moderator Bob Vaughan got the evening started by announcing the results of balloting on Monday. All incumbents—and one newcomer to the school board—were elected in uncontested races and the voters adopted the “Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance” by a 112-64 margin. That was a turnaround from the vote two years ago when voters rejected the ordinance by just a few votes.
Selectman John Gray said he did not think that the adoption of the ordinance would require the selectmen to do anything differently in town, adding that the state of Maine still disputes the validity of such ordinances which also have been adopted in several other Maine towns. In response to a question from the floor, Gray said the town budget did not include any additional funds in anticipation of having to defend a legal challenge to the ordinance.
“I don’t think there have been any [challenges] in the other towns,” he said.
Vaughan noted that the selectmen have the option of defending the ordinance or not if and when it is challenged. Until then, he said, it stands as a town ordinance.
Without questions, voters approved the $1.7 million school budget for the coming school year. Superintendent Mark Hurvitt noted the total budget of $1,743,320 represented a small increase of just 1.08 percent or $18,308. That was the result of the school committee’s efforts to hold the line on the budget, Hurvitt said. It’s the second year in a row that the committee has presented a bare bones budget and he cautioned that it will be difficult to continue to do so.
“It’s going to be difficult to operate on such Spartan budgets year after year,” he said. “This is a maintenance budget. There are no new programs and we have eliminated one program; we cut the after-school program.”
Voters went through the municipal articles almost as easily. The total municipal budget was $929,797, a decrease of $23,442 or about 2.4 percent. But only one of the questions raised on the town articles had to do with a funding issue. On the question of how much to allocate to the Washington Hancock Community Agency, the recommendations from the selectmen and the budget and advisory committee differed. The selectmen recommended the requested amount of $1,682, while the budget and advisory committee recommended just $1,000.
Committee member Matthew Freedman said the committee regularly requests budgets from organizations requesting funds from the town in the interest of transparency, so the members can see where the money goes. WHCA has regularly failed to present a budget to the town, although Freedman noted that he did receive a summary budget from the organization last Friday.
“I think what you’re seeing is frustration on the part of some of the members of the committee,” he said.
Selectman Gray noted that WHCA did report that the agency had provided a total of more than $48,000 in services to Brooksville residents in the past year. The request, Gray said, is 3.5 percent of that amount.
“It seemed like a pretty good deal regardless of the budget,” he said.
Committee member Ann Ebeling noted that it was the agency itself that put the value on their services and that, without a budget, it was difficult for the committee to determine whether those figures were valid.
Voters approved the selectmen’s recommendation for the requested amount of $1,682.
They also approved a funding request from the Tree of Life food pantry in Blue Hill. This was the first time the food pantry had requested funding, noting overall requests for food assistance from the organization had increased 32 percent in the last year. The Tree of Life provided food assistance for 23 families in Brooksville last year.
Voters also agreed to accept the gift of land and a building on Cape Rosier Road from the estate of former selectman, the late Clifford “Kip” Leach. Gray said the site could be a good one to serve as an auxiliary fire station to serve the Cape Rosier area. He said the entire head of the cape is considered an unprotected area because of its distance from a fire house. If that ever becomes an issue with insurance companies, Gray said the property could be used as a station. The current building would not house a fire truck, but for the time being, the building could serve as a town storage area for the road commissioner.
Voters also approved several articles recommended by the Maine Municipal Association. Gray noted that they gave town officials the authority to do things that they already had been doing for a number of years such as spend up to 25 percent of the town budget between January 1 and the time of the annual town meeting, close roads for the winter and accept early tax payments.
The results of the balloting for unchallenged incumbent town officers showed that Selectman John Gray received 169 votes, Town Clerk Amber Bakeman, 170 votes; Tax Collector Yvonne Redman, 170 votes; Treasurer, Freida Peasley, 170 votes; Fire Chief Matthew Dow, 167 votes; Road Commissioner Mark Blake, 170 votes; Planning Board member Gerald Gray, 171 votes. For the school committee, incumbent Helen Condon received 158 votes and new board member Gail Ladd received 151 votes.