Originally published in The Weekly Packet, August 2, 2018
Blue Hill rejects Salt Pond property purchase
Fails special town meeting vote 86-97
Special town meeting moderator Scott Miller reads the results of the written ballot, with Town Clerk Etta Perkins, at the July 25 special town meeting on the proposed purchase of a Salt Pond property.
by Anne Berleant
The upstairs auditorium of Town Hall was filled to capacity for a special town meeting July 25, with people finding seats on the steps to the stage, a couch and a piano bench. Up for vote: a proposed town purchase of a property on Salt Pond, nearly 3.5 acres in size, with about 900 feet of shoreline and a three-bedroom house. The measure failed to win approval, with 97 citizens voting against the measure and 86 in favor.
The meeting followed on the heels of a July 23 informational session that Selectman Chairman Jim Schatz described as contentious. But the thin margin separating the no and yes votes gave him reason for optimism.
“It was close,” he said directly afterwards. He noted that the earlier meeting showed that some citizens were concerned more over the process—holding a special town meeting versus a referendum vote—or the $458,000 price tag, rather than the idea of the town purchasing shorefront property for public use.
“We’re going to continue the conversation,” Schatz said, whether on this specific property or a different one.
Several citizens spoke until, about 30 minutes in, a motion to call the question was resoundingly approved by a hand vote.
Issues raised included the seller’s stipulation that no motorcraft be allowed. For a “half a million…that’s not right,” Rick Bannister said. Dick Evans questioned the lack of a “detailed budget” for the development and management of the property. Alice Herrick thought the town should be focused on providing access for fishermen: “$400,000 would go a long way,” she noted.
An equal number of voices spoke in favor of creating public access, like East Blue Hill resident Lee Lehto. “There’s not nearly enough access to the water for people who don’t own shorefront property or a yacht,” she said. Another resident pointed to the importance of access to nature: “That’s an important reason why we’re in Blue Hill.”
The property, located at 270 Salt Pond Road, has been on the market, off and on, since 2012. The town has about $10,000 invested in the purchase contract, which will be returned to the town.
Special town meeting raises questions over town account
A town account designated for land purchases does not have to be used for that purpose, Selectmen Ellen Best and Vaughn Leach said two days after a failed July 25 special town meeting vote to spend $458,000 on a Salt Pond parcel. While money received from the sale by the town of tax-acquired property is placed in that account, it can be used elsewhere with a town vote.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s unappropriated [surplus],” Leach said.
The question of how the account began, and on what it can be spent, arose at the selectmen’s weekly meeting July 27. Marcia Henderson said she overheard some citizens at the special town meeting stating the belief the fund could only be used for land purchases. Her questions went further back, however.
“Where is the warrant article that designated money from tax-acquired property goes into [a] land account?” she asked. “Where are you [selectmen] getting your authority that you even need a town vote to spend the money on something else?”
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Selectman Ellen Best said.
The account was set up by former Selectman Gordon Emerson, Best said. And, like money in the town’s surplus account, a town vote is needed to spend it, on a land purchase or anything else. The land account received a $425,000 boost last August when the town auctioned a Parker Lane tax-acquired property, and now holds over $750,000.
Muddying the question was a 1996 warrant article surrounding Long Island, which is not applicable, Leach said, and second-hand information Henderson related from two people not present, current selectman Jim Schatz and former selectman John Bannister.
“Can we come next week to have [this] resolved?” Henderson asked.
Her husband, Joe Henderson, nodded his head. “I think it’s is really paramount that this is [made] clear,” he said.