Originally published in The Weekly Packet, March 9, 2017
Sedgwick voters elect new selectman, reject timber harvest
Ballot clerks, from left, Sarah Everdell and Charity McFarland check off each voter before accepting a written ballot.
by Anne Berleant
With over 90 citizens in attendance at the Sedgwick Elementary School, town meeting on Saturday, March 4, saw voters vigorously discuss everything from a snow removal contract to animal control to a proposed commercial timber harvest and the number of streetlights in town. Over five hours later, nearly all warrant articles had passed by wide margins or unanimously, including a moratorium ordinance on retail marijuana establishments and $330,000 for a new fire truck.
“The town has always supported us really well,” Fire Chief David Carter said. “I’m pleased.”
A proposal to harvest trees at Walker Pond to help pay for maintaining the road to the landing, failed, with citizens wanting more information, especially after Second Selectman Colby Pert said the forestry market was down and the effect on erosion could be negative.
“This timber situation is not well thought out,” said Mary Barnes, a past president of Blue Hill Heritage Trust, which owns surrounding land on Caterpillar Hill adjacent to the pond.
Voters also heard that handicapped-accessible bathrooms were coming to town hall, funded mainly from the office repair reserve fund and why the repair account request had jumped from $200 to $1,500. In total, a municipal budget of nearly $862,000, a $22,437 increase, and a school budget of $2.4 million, a $75,766 increase of which $41,000 is to come from taxation, were approved.
Michael Sheahan was sworn in as first selectman, after unseating Neil Davis in town elections on March 3, 147-91. Michele Levesque was reelected to the school board with 220 votes and Cynthia Reilly as town treasurer with 236 votes.
Voters voiced concerns over the lack of budget committee recommendations in the warrant, and notice given for public meetings, in general.
When called upon, budget committee members were either reluctant to identify themselves or not present. Steve Tobey said he attended the first two of three meetings, and was not aware of many decisions. Second Selectman Colby Pert said time constraints, in part, were to blame for the committee’s lack of input.
“What’s the point, purpose of having a budget committee if it’s not making recommendations?” Peter Neill asked. “What’s the purpose of having a board of selectmen that allows this to happen? I hope the new board of selectmen…will not [just] explain why something failed.”
Finally, in apparent frustration over the discussion, outgoing Selectman Davis said, “The budget committee is simply an advisory group. This is the selectmen’s warrant, not the budget committee’s warrant.”
Whether funds for most requests would be raised through taxation or appropriated was unclear from the wording of articles, voters said. Selectmen clarified that unless a request specified funding from surplus, the amount would first be raised and then appropriated. Budget requests from surplus for the 2017-18 budget equaled $61,000, perhaps a bit more than what will be left, Pert said.
School articles quickly passed, with the written ballot for funding the amount that exceeded state calculations, $848,562, passing 71-8.
All requests from nonprofits were approved except, again, $1,500 for Red Cross. The only debate was over a new request from Maine Public for $100 but, between its role as the emergency broadcast system, televising that evening’s basketball state championship game, and as a “credible news source,” as one citizen described it, the article passed.
Referendum questions on creating a charter commission and reinstating a school budget validation referendum were inadvertently left off the warrant, so will be addressed in a referendum vote this spring. In addition, Reilly noted that a handful of property owners were listed in the town report as owing taxes when they had, in fact, been paid.
Breakfast, lunch and beverages were sold by eighth grade class members, who also provided child care.