Yarmouth council shuts down sewer fee discussions, bans fireworks and approves Firehouse Arts

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YARMOUTH — Although Town Councilor Tim Sanders tried to convince his colleagues to consider a sewer user fee, his was the lone vote to pursue further action on the issue last week.

All residents, regardless of a sewer connection or not, support the operation of the sewer system through their property taxes. The system costs about $1.4 million to operate and maintain, but according to Town Manager Nat Tupper, is underfunded each year. 

Yarmouth is the only town in Cumberland County to charge every resident for sewer use and one of only four in the state, he said.

“There is a concept of we all work together for community, unity and common purpose,” he said. “We work together and don’t divide things out by who pays.”

After a public hearing and talking about what a sewer user fee would imply, the council voted against further discussion of the fees  on Thursday, Nov. 17.

Sanders said it is unfair for nearly 1,000 homeowners who are not connected to the sewer system to pay for a service that about 2,500 residents use. Unlike the use of the schools, the town dump, and emergency medical services, Sanders said, the sewer connection is the only service Yarmouth charges all residents for that not everyone can use.

“It’s time to have people pay for what they use,” he said. “Our present system to me is a bad habit and is unjust and every year will get worse. Yarmouth should adopt sewer fees and put the expense on those that benefit from the service.”

But the other six councilors did not agree.

Councilor Leslie Hyde said Yarmouth defines itself by taking care of its residents and regardless of the services residents use.

Councilor Irving Bickford said “nothing is fair about the tax system,” but feels it is balanced through each resident’s use of schools, parks, roads and playgrounds.

And while Councilor Randall Bates said he believes certain aspects of the sewer fee issue should be considered “at some point,” now is not the time.

Although the discussion will not continue this year, Sanders said he was pleased it was held.

“Someday (this issue) will resonate with the right person and they will be able to make this argument better than I’ve made it,” he said.

Firehouse Arts Center

In other business, the council voted 5-2 to lease Winslow Fire Station to the Firehouse Arts group for classes, workshops and gallery space. The arts group will create a community art center that will offer affordable public art programs.

The group has a five-year lease with an option to buy after three years. It would pay $1 rent for years one and two, and $5,000 rent for years three through five.

Bickford and Winslow voted against the agreement.

Winslow, the namesake of Winlsow Station, has been opposed to the project since the first discussion. He said it is not good for the town to give up a building and give up potential income generated by the building.

But the other councilors supported the project. Bates called it a “tremendous opportunity for the town of Yarmouth and its citizens.”

In a related 5-2 vote, the council amended the zoning ordinance to change the title and scope of municipal uses and buildings to “civil” uses and buildings. Bickford and Winslow opposed to the amendment. 

Tupper said the change expands the definition of municipal uses and buildings to include community groups, the library, Historical Society and other civic organizations that have a relationship with the town and provide public services.

“I think the idea is that public services can be supported and encouraged by the town but don’t necessarily have to be government centered or primarily funded,” Tupper said. “If we are going to try to meet the needs of the community without doing it all through local government and taxes, then we need ability to partner up.”

Fireworks ordinance

The council voted unanimously for a fireworks ordinance that bans the sale and use of consumer fireworks.

A state law that takes effect Jan. 1 allows for the sale and use of consumer fireworks, but allows municipalities to enact local restrictions.

Fire Chief Byron Fairbanks said he supports the ban of the sale and use of fireworks and is most concerned with safety.

“My concern is that (fireworks) will get in the hands of the wrong people, and children will get a hold of these things, and harm is going to be done,” he said.  

Police Chief Michael Morrill said his concerns are based on noise complaints, the difficulty of enforcing violations in neighborhoods and the danger and trash generated by fireworks.

“The intent of the ordinance is not to prevent anyone from possessing fireworks,” he said. “But if you possess them with the intent to use or sell, that would be a violation.”

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @amy_k_anderson.