Originally published in The Weekly Packet, April 12, 2018
Blue Hill bans plastic grocery bags, polystyrene
Also enacted: new street vending ordinance
by Anne Berleant
Citizens voted for change at town meeting April 7, passing ordinances against single-use plastic bags and foam food service containers and enacting new street vending laws. They also voted two new faces onto the school board and approved an assistant principal in the elementary school.
Chairman of Selectmen Vaughn Leach was reelected without opposition: “Thanks for the support,” he said. “It was a tough race.”
In all, an $8.75 million combined municipal and education budget for 2018 passed voter scrutiny.
Selectman Ellen Best opened by acknowledging recent theft charges against a former town treasurer.
“I know it seems town hall may seem to be secretive about what’s going on,” she said. “Unfortunately there are stringent rules that cover personnel.”
Voters approved the plastic bag ordinance 139-56 and the polystyrene foam ordinance 151-46. Selectmen noted a referendum vote might have been better but said neither ordinance was ready by the absentee ballot deadline.
Plus, Leach said, “the issues deserve discussion.”
Those not in favor mostly cited the burden to local merchants, but environmental factors swayed the majority of voters, despite Merrill & Hinckley owner John Bannister listing negative environmental effects of paper bag production.
“This is nothing more than feel-good legislation,” he said, adding that older customers want bags with handles. “This hurt would come down on the elderly.”
Some said more thought was needed but most were ready to enact.
“Other communities in Maine have taken the lead,” one citizen noted. “Let’s go forward with this. We won’t regret it.”
A new street vending ordinance was also approved 129-48 after a vocal minority asked for more forethought as to the effect on local businesses.
“The ordinance significantly threatens local businesses that employ local citizens, pays taxes and are the backbone of the community,” said Bill Fletcher, owner of a new soon-to-open Main Street café. Several merchants voiced agreement.
Safety was also raised. “I was road commissioner for 10 years,” Mike Astbury said. “Local vending of any type on Main Street is dangerous.”
As enacted, mobile vendors will no longer have to apply by December 31 and then be approved at town meeting but will undergo a permit process, including a public hearing, and selectmen vote.
“We felt [this] was a more efficient way to bring these opportunities to our town,” Selectman Jim Schatz said.
Voters easily approved amendments to the Commercial Site Plan Review Ordinance, and $15,000 for testing a harbor dredge disposal plan.
“It’s a no brainer,” said Adam Gray of the ongoing efforts to provide all-tide access at the town wharf.
Voters also unanimously approved $187,000 in improvements to Parker Point Road, the South Blue Hill Wharf Road, the town playground, and the Dodge Fountain on Parker Point Road to make it functional again.
The closest vote at the meeting was when to adjourn for lunch, with the first attempt failing 89-74.
In education articles, a $5.9 million school budget, up 2.95 percent, was approved. The budget adds an assistant principal position, a teaching position paid for by federal funds, and more school nurse hours. The reasons are an increase in students and student behavior issues that Superintendent Mark Hurvitt said are not unique to Blue Hill.
“I think it’s a symptom. I think we need this administration to work with these students, these families, so the school moves forward,” he said.
Enrollment stands at 170 students, with 32 new students registering last summer.
To balance the cost of the new positions, the elementary school Spanish program and an ed. tech. position were cut.
“The reality of budgeting is give and take,” Hurvitt said.
Not everyone approved: “Budgets just go up, they don’t come down,” David Nason said, hearkening back over 50 years to when the budget for 188 students was a fraction of the current cost.
Blue Hill Consolidated School Principal Shelly Schildroth spoke of the accomplishments of her K-8 students in arts, academics and community service “and just who they are as people. Some of the best things about our school are things I can’t even share with you,” she said.
The state-required written ballot on school funding passed 64-2.
Before adjournment, those still remaining gave rounds of applause for outgoing school board member Ben Wootten, town officials and volunteers.
“It’s really nice to live in a well-managed town,” one citizen said.
Selectman: Vaughn Leach, 286
School board, two seats:
Candace Gray, 213
Tina Allen 183
John “Ben” Wootten 166
Planning board, three seats: Mary Alice Hurvitt, 267
Write-ins: Sergei Breus, 18; Adam Gray; 9, John Gandy, 4.
Road Commissioner: *William Cousins, 283