Harpswell Town Meeting to vote on beach funds, budget, school lease
HARPSWELL — Besides electing a new selectman, residents will vote on beach funds and the 2013 municipal budget, among many other items, at the annual Town Meeting on March 9.
The meeting runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Harpswell Community School, 308 Harpswell Islands Road.
The meeting warrant, which authorizes the municipal budget, various appropriations, and ordinance changes,contains 71 articles and was scheduled to be finalized by the Board of Selectmen on Thursday.
One of the larger warrant items revolves around one group's fight to open access to Robinhood Beach on Bailey Island (sometimes referred as Cedar Beach). A similar article appeared in the 2011 Town Warrant.
Article 12 would authorize borrowing up to $220,000 for the acquisition of public access to Robinhood Beach. The money would only be used if the Cumberland County Superior Court finds that a public access easement exists on Cedar Beach Road and a part of Robinhood Beach in a pending lawsuit between beach access supporters and the property owners.
"We're very pleased it's coming out of the Board of Selectmen and going into the Town Meeting," said Michael Helfgot, president of Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters. "That's what we wanted and we're pleased with that."
While most of the articles have been recommended by the Board of Selectmen, Town Admnistrator Kristi Eiane said the board hasn't weighed in yet on the beach measure.
Article 35 would authorize selectmen to sign a lease for up to three years for the former West Harpswell School building. The article, which is recommended by the board, is a result of the town's inability to lease the building for more than a year to a charter school that plans to open in the fall, Eiane said.
Eiane said the article is not specific to the charter school, but it could open the door for a future agreement between the school and select board.
"It's got to be for more than a year," said Joe Grady, chairman of the Harpswell Coastal Academy board. "We've been talking to them the whole way through, but that's where it would always stop."
Article 38 would appropriate $40,000 to remove the water tank at Mitchell Field, something that is no longer usable and could be a liability, Eiane said. It would have cost around $300,000 to bring the tank to working condition, she said.
"I think there was a sense that it would be less costly now, given the costs of metal, to put that project out to bid," Eiane said.
Article 39 would appropriate $8,000 to match a grant that would raise money to remove the north and south cells at the Mitchell Field pier. Eiane said the town has already applied for a grant, and the north cell has begun to collapse.
The town recently received a report that it would cost too much to completely rehabilitate or remove the old pier, Eiane said, but since regulatory agencies aren't requiring any action, the town is planning to wait for any further decision.
Article 42 would appropriate $76,000 for the planning, design and construction of an emergency medical services vehicle garage, which is a requirement of an agreement between the town and Mid Coast Hospital for paramedic services that began last year.
The town appropriated $74,000 for the same purpose last year, but not all of that has been spent. Eiane said the town has decided to build a larger garage with extra amenities like office space and a bathroom, which would allow expanded use in the future.
"Total project costs will be approximately $150,000, but we haven't put the project out to bid," Eiane said.
Articles 4 and 5 would amend the town's Shoreland Zoning Ordinance to increase shore access and comply with state guidelines, Town Planner Carol Eyermen said.
Regarding the budget, there is some good news.
Eiane said the proposed municipal budget has decreased by 1.6 percent from this year, to $4.3 million. She said the change is a result of lower debt service and lower costs for special projects, health and welfare.
However, the budget does project increases in a few areas.
As a result of a referendum vote last Election Day, the Town Treasurer will become an appointed position effective March 9. The change will see the treasurer working more often, with a higher salary of $20,000.
The town's annual appropriation for Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick has increased by 3.7 percent from last year to almost $124,000. Eiane said the increase was a result of increased operating costs for the library.
Eiane said the municipal budget took into account a projected decrease in the second half of the year in subsidies from the state's municipal revenue-sharing program, which is currently being proposed for a two-year suspension by Gov. Paul LePage.
Eiane said if LePage's proposal goes through, the town would have to balance the budget with its fund balance.
Eiane also noted that the municipal budget does not include the town's appropriation for School Administrative District 75, which is developed independently.
Eiane said initial school budget figures may emerge as early as March 12, and the town's school spending will go to voters in June.