BAR HARBOR — Voters approved an amended municipal budget of $14.5 million Tuesday night that included $55,000 to add a new town employee in the planning department.
Voters also approved amending the budget to allocate $5,000 to Mount Desert Nursing Association (MDNA) and $7,589 to Downeast Community Partners (DCP), two nonprofit organizations that serve Bar Harbor residents.
Voters rejected a motion to add $12,000 to the budget to expand transfer station hours that were reduced by the Town Council in a vote over the winter. The motion from the floor would have reinstated Thursday afternoon and Sunday hours in the summer.
The $6.5 million budget for Conners Emerson School was approved without amendments.
More than 120 voters filled the Conners Emerson gymnasium for the annual Town Meeting, moderated by Bill Ferm. The meeting began with recognition of Jake Jagel and Paul Paradis for their many years of service to the town.
Jagel stepped down earlier this year from the Warrant Committee after approximately 10 years of service. He was chair of the general government subcommittee. Paradis said he has decided not to run for reelection after serving 13 years on the council.
The Warrant Committee slate for the coming year was approved. One member, William Murphy, will be new to the committee this year.
When discussing the municipal budget, the first proposed amendment came from Town Council Chair Gary Friedmann. Friedmann proposed allocating $55,000 to create a new full-time position of assistant planner, to assist the workload in the planning office.
“We’ve been through a lot of planners,” Friedmann said. With ferry terminal plans, vacation rentals, zoning changes, Cottage and Main Street development projects, and other issues facing the town, Friedmann said the town planner’s workload is “an unbearable load for one person.”
“We’re in a position now with the new fees that the council approved on vacation rentals of having the funds to bring on an assistant planner to let the office do a better job,” Friedmann continued. The $55,000 would come from vacation rental fees raised from the 1,000 vacation rentals permitted at the annual fee of $250 per unit. “So there will be no net cost from the town,” Friedmann explained. “It will really be just a transfer.”
In answer to a question from the floor of why the new position was not included in the budget, Friedmann explained it was an issue of timing. The budget process begins in January, he said, and the new town planner, Michele Gagnon, began in April. By the time Gagnon made councilors aware the overload of work in the planning office, the budget process was already underway.
After discussion, the motion was passed by voters 112 to 8. A later vote to allocate vacation rental fee revenues to cover the $55,000 budget item passed 96 to 10.
The next three proposed amendments to the budget came from the floor. Bar Harbor resident and MDNA Executive Director Heather Lewis requested the town allocate $5,000 to the island-wide nursing organization, which serves people in their homes regardless of ability to pay. Lewis said MDNA serves patients in Bar Harbor and other island towns with the goal of “keep[ing] people in their homes as long and as comfortably as possible.”
The motion was passed by voters 119 to 5.
Bar Harbor resident Hook Wheeler, human resource director at DCP, requested $7,359 from the town to go to the organization’s programs, which include transportation services, the School Backpack Meal program, and the Low-income Home Energy Assistance Program (LiHEAP). Wheeler said the requested amount was to match 5 percent of the DCP’s cost of services to Bar Harbor residents last year.
The motion passed 93 to 25.
Resident Ann Damm made a motion to add $28,000 to the budget to expand the transfer station summer hours back to include Thursday afternoons and Sundays. In discussion, the cost of reinstituting the hours was corrected to $12,000, so Damm withdrew her previous motion and restated it with the correct amount.
Public Works Director Chip Reeves explained his rationale for cutting the transfer station hours. It was not only to save money, he said, but to make scheduling easier and prevent burnout in staff. “With this schedule, I can give guys a full weekend off every three weeks,” Reeves said.
Voters defeated the motion 108 to 14.
Town elections are set for Tuesday, June 11, at the Municipal Building. Polls open at 8 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.
In the only contested election, four candidates are running for two seats on the Town Council. The candidates are filmmaker Jeff Dobbs, inn owner and former Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Martha Searchfield, inn owner Peter St. Germain and incumbent council Vice Chair Matthew Hochman.
Incumbent school board members Kristi Losquadro and Alexandra “Lilea” Simis are each running for another three-year term.
Voters will also weigh in on a zoning change, a change to the historic properties list, and two citizen initiatives.