Harpswell to vote on $4.5M budget

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HARPSWELL — Town Meeting on Saturday will decide whether to approve a $4.5 million budget, an increase of 1.63 percent over current spending.

Included in the spending plan is $110,000 for a share of the legal fees from a court battle over use of Cedar Beach Road, a $5,000 increase in the road commissioner’s salary, more than $32,400 for employee pay increases, and $9,000 to pay for a public transit pilot project.

The town’s total appropriations – including the municipal budget, a potential $7.96 million school tax (up 10.1 percent), $30,000 for overlay (down 49 percent) and a $1.26 million county tax (up 6.1 percent) – could add up to $13.8 million, with a property tax increase of 7.23 percent.

The School Administrative District 75 tax figure is based on Harpswell’s fiscal year, which covers calendar year 2015.

But to reduce that increase to 5.41 percent, voters Saturday can opt to use an additional $200,000 of fund balance than proposed, for a total of $506,000, Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said last week.

Voters will also decide whether to sell the West Harpswell School to Harpswell Coastal Academy, a charter school, for $150,000. HCA would be credited $40,000 of the sale price for its existing lease payment to Harpswell, according to the draft warrant that selectmen approved. HCA will pay the town $10,000 at signing, with the rest to be paid off in equal annual payments in lieu of taxes over a decade.

Cedar Beach funding would come from a direct appropriation, not through a bond, Eiane said. Voters in 2013 approved $220,000 in bonds to obtain a public access to Cedar Beach, but that authority expired Dec. 31, 2014.

Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters, the organization fighting to open the road to the Bailey Island beach, asked the Board of Selectmen in November to propose a bond to pay for about half the court costs it expects to incur. 

Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills sided with the group in September 2014, and ruled that the public has a right to use Cedar Beach Road. Road owner Betsy Atkins has appealed that decision.

Road Commissioner Rob Ponziani would receive a pay increase of $5,000 in the proposed budget, boosting his annual salary to $20,000. When elected in 2012, he was paid $6,000 a year.

While Ponziani initially asked selectmen to consider increasing his annual pay to $30,000, the board opted to call for the smaller raise, saying the position might not warrant that which amounts to a full-time salary.

Town Meeting will be held at the Harpswell Community School, 308 Harpswell Islands Road, at 10 a.m.

Voting runs there from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Selectman Elinor Multer, SAD 75 board member Joanne Rogers, and Ponziani are all unopposed candidates for re-election.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.