Harpswell Town Meeting convenes March 10 – Watershed moment for Mitchell Field Tower

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HARPSWELL — Harpswell residents will vote at Town Meeting this Saturday on a $5.2 million budget, which is an increase of just over 3 percent from the current budget.

A slew of other issues will also be on the ballot March 10, including two warrant articles that will determine the fate of the controversial Mitchell Field water tower. In addition, voters will decide whether to allocate just over $9,500 toward funding a yearlong brown tail moth research project in town.

Town Meeting will begin at 10 a.m. at Harpswell Community School; the polls will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Two positions will also be up for election at the meeting on the Board of Selectmen and SAD 75 Board of Directors. Selectman David Chipman is running unopposed for a three-year term. Chipman was approved at last year’s town meeting to complete the final year of former Selectman Elinor Multer’s term.

There are no candidates listed on the ballot for the SAD 75 Board of Directors.  Harpswell does not declare official write-ins, but current board member Joanne Rogers and Peter Huntsman have indicated they are running for the position on campaign signs around town.

The first of the warrant articles concerning the water tower asks voters to authorize the Board of Selectmen to enter into a multi-year agreement with a nonprofit or for-profit group for up to 20 years for management and maintenance of the water tower. The town gained ownership of the structure in 2000 along with the rest of Mitchell Field, following the closure of the U.S. Navy depot at the site in 1992.

Required maintenance to be completed by the organizations would include certain repairs to the tower’s foundation to be finished by Sept. 30.

The article also states if the foundation repairs are not completed by that date, or selectmen are unable to negotiate a management agreement with an outside party deemed to be “in the best interest of the town” by Sept. 30, voting “yes” will also authorize the town to expend up to $40,000 from the Mitchell Field capital reserve fund to demolish the tower.

The second warrant article on the topic allows voters to indicate the town should expend the $40,000 to demolish the tower without entering into an outside agreement.

On Jan. 31, the Board of Selectmen approved a Request for Expressions of Interest drafted by town officials for any outside party interested in leasing the tower.

If passed, the browntail moth funding will pay for Dr. Eleanor Groden of the University of Maine and her students’ research into natural ways to quell the spread of browntail moths in Harpswell for one year. Groden first made a presentation to selectmen about her research of browntail moths in other Maine communities last November.

The proposed budget is just under $167,000 more than the current budget. Some drivers of the increase include $200,000 proposed to be put towards roads, which received no funding last year, and just over $147,500 in capital costs.

Capital costs include $90,000 for recycling; $45,000 for a boat and motor; $40,000 for vehicles; $50,000 for facilities and $20,000 in office equipment.

Reductions of $150,000 in Mitchell Field capital spending and $100,000 in capital for the Central Fire Station will help offset increases in other areas.

The sole referendum question on the ballot will ask voters to approve $141,900 for the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick; voters approved $137,104 for the library last year.

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Harpswell voters will be asked to approve a $5.2 million budget at the annual Town Meeting March 10. Residents will also vote to determine the fate of the Mitchell Field water tower and whether funds should be used for a year-long University of Maine browntail moth research project.