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HARPSWELL — Voters at last Saturday’s annual Town Meeting elected Alison Hawkes to the Board of Selectmen, and Jane Meisenbach and Kay Ogrodnik to the board of School Administrative District 75.
But School Board write-in candidate Sheryl Johnson requested a recount, which will take place Sunday, March 20 at 10:30 a.m., at the Town Office on Mountain Road. Johnson received 286 votes, finishing third behind Ogrodnik with 306 votes and Meisenbach with 484.
Voters also approved spending up to $220,000 to secure public access to Cedar Beach and $10,000 to pursue a solution to the border dispute with Brunswick.
In addition, they gave the Board of Selectmen authority to sign multi-year leases at Mitchell Field and approved the 2011 town budget.
At 11 a.m., moderator John Lloyd skipped ahead in the warrant to Article 75, which proposed spending up to $950,000 to acquire a public access easement to Cedar Beach. Selectmen had decide to vote on this article early in the day to discourage voters from leaving the meeting before the it was discussed.
Sally Daggett, the town’s attorney, explained the history of the town’s interactions with Charles and Sally Abrahamson, who own the beach and parts of the access road. She said it would be an “uphill battle” and advised against pursuing a public easement by prescription, which would try to prove Cedar Beach and parts of the road are public due to a history of long-term use.
She also explained the discrepancies between the Abrahamsons’ appraisal of their property ($2.7 million) and the town’s ($1.65 million). Daggett said the Abrahamsons consider their property completely private, while the town assessor considers it semi-private with some public use.
The town based its assessment on the selling price of neighboring properties on Bailey Island, while the Abrahamsons based theirs on properties in Southport and St. George.
The huge discrepancies in appraisals led voters to question how much should be spent, if anything, on public access to Cedar Beach.
Many speakers were disappointed that the Abrahamsons were seeking to charge the town for access at all, while others said beach access is priceless. The Abrahamsons have requested $950,000 – the amount they say their property value would be reduced by if they gave up a public access easement to the beach. The town’s assessor estimated that number at $220,000.
Robert Jackson said he approved spending the full price, citing lost opportunities to protect beach access in the past.
But Alison Hawkes captured the mood of many voters with her comment that it was “not responsible to spend more than our appraisal says.” Indeed, a couple of residents suggested paying only $1 for the property.
Voters ultimately reduced the amount they would be willing to spend to the town’s assessed amount of $220,000.
Article 14, which would authorize the Board of Selectmen to sign multi-year property leases with businesses at Mitchell Field, also gave voters pause. Previously, a majority Town Meeting vote was required for such leases.
Resident Gordon Weil was one of many speakers who expressed concern about the amendment. He called the move “a step away from Town Meeting towards town council,” and said he was concerned the town would be giving up too much authority to selectmen.
But Liz Davis expressed concern that if selectmen do not have the ability to negotiate a lease, fewer businesses will want to come to Mitchell Field – a position shared by selectmen, who spoke in favor of the amendment.
It was too close to call after a show of orange cards, but voters approved the amendment by a margin of 122-90 after standing to be counted.
By the time Article 60 came up for vote, many voters had left the auditorium. But among the residents who stayed, several rose to speak about whether the town should allocate $10,000 in legal fees to the boundary dispute with Brunswick.
A bill sponsored by state Rep. Kim Olsen, R-Phippsburg, is before the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government, and teams from the two towns met last week to try to negotiate a compromise.
While many voters spoke in favor of the effort, including members of the Carrying Place Assembly, who have been spearheading the project, there were concerns raised.
Hannah Trowbridge was one of a handful of residents who was perturbed that members of Harpswell’s team had asked Brunswick for 10 shellfish licenses. Henderson immediately said that licenses were not a fundamental part of the issue, and the town is willing to drop the request.
Len Freeman wondered what would happen if the town needed to spend more than $10,000 on legal costs. Henderson replied that while selectmen could authorize another thousand dollars or so, the town could vote on an additional $10,000 or more.
But most voters continued to support the effort, and approved the article by a large majority.
Voters approved every referendum article on the secret ballot, including giving $115,000 to the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick. The vote on that article was the closest, 572-331.
Hawkes beat opponent Rick Daniels 463-418 in the Board of Selectmen election.
Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This report was updated on Wednesday, March 16, 2011.