HARPSWELL — Residents will decide Nov. 6 whether $30,000 should be moved to the town’s reserve account to cover any potential legal fees after a lengthy dispute over the town’s water tower drained the municipality’s legal fund.
The issue came up at the Oct. 18 selectmen’s meeting, when the board heard public comment regarding referendum questions that will appear on the municipal ballot in November.
Also on the ballot is a referendum asking voters to appropriate an additional $25,000 toward improved parking at the Pott’s Point boat launch.
According to Town Administrator Kristi Eiane, the town had a $50,000 budget to cover litigation in 2018. But the budget for legal fees was close to drained by August due to the unexpected lawsuit brought by Friends of Mitchell Field.
To date, the town of Harpswell has spent just under $62,000 in legal fees associated with the Mitchell Field water tower.
The referendum asks voters to approve the fund transfer from the town’s unassigned fund balance to cover any unexpected litigation for the remaining year.
Dorothy Rosenburg, a member of the Friends of Mitchell Field, was the only resident to speak at the public hearing. She questioned town officials on what percentage of the $30,000 will be used on water tower-related legal issues if the referendum passes.
“Do you plan on making it clear to voters prior to Election Day what in fact these funds will be expended for,” Rosenburg asked.
Eiane reiterated that the town only had an estimate of the cost of litigation surrounding the Mitchell Field Water Tower lawsuit and said no one had any idea how much the exact litigation costs would be.
“Before this article was drafted, we didn’t know if there was going to be an appeal or if there would be some additional costs,” Eiane said.
Selectman Kevin Johnson echoed Eiane’s earlier sentiments about the town’s legal budget.
“We also have other legal expenses coming out of this,” Johnson added. “We have some things coming up next week,” he said. “This is to cover the water tower issue and the other issues we have coming up in the next coming months.”
Johnson also stated that the town “did not yet know what percentage of the $30,000 will go toward litigation related to the water tower.
If voters approve the referendum for parking improvements at the boat launch, the funding will come from the unassigned fund balance.
The Pott’s Point project is estimated to cost nearly $100,000, with almost 50 percent of the project already being funded from through a Small Harbor Improvement grant. Additionally, the town has already allocated $25,000 from the Land Acquisition and Town Property Improvement Fund.
Deputy Town Administrator Terri Sawyer previously said the boat ramp at Pott’s Point is too low, causing it to get buried in the sand and rendering it “unusable.”
She said the design for the project calls “for leaving the existing ramp in place but building a newer and higher ramp over it with the concrete boat ramps.”
A contractor for the program has not been chosen, but if it is approved by the voters in November it will go out to bid.
The other piece of the project involves adding gravel to the parking area near the wharf.
Chairman Rick Daniel looks over supporting materials at the Oct. 18 Harpswell selectmen’s meeting.