Bar Harbor voters asked to approve bond request 



BAR HARBOR — When Bar Harbor voters head to town meeting on June 7, they will be presented with a $7.9M school budget and a $26M municipal budget. They will also be asked to weigh in on bond measures for water and sewer upgrades as well as a municipal solar array.  

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. and take place at the Connors Emerson School gymnasium.  

If all measures are approved as presented, town residents can expect a 4.6 percent increase to the tax rate, meaning that a tax bill for a $400,000 home would increase by $179 a year.  

The municipal budget seeks to fund several new positions including four firefighters and a deputy fire chief (which will be a shared position with the town of Mount Desert), as well as a communications position, sustainability coordinator, full-time public works position and part-time human resources manager. 

While many of the new positions will help better manage existing staffing levels, the communications and the sustainability positions would be new to the town. The communications position, with an expected salary of around $65,000, is intended to broker communication between the town and its residents as well as manage social media accounts, serve as a public information officer and open lines of communication both internally and externally, explained Town Manager Kevin Sutherland.  

The sustainability coordinator, with a budgeted salary of roughly $65,000, would be responsible for championing the town’s concern for the environment and spearheading local initiatives as directed by the Town Council for planning and education around climate change issues. “The town is taking steps already,” said Sutherland, “but this position would be at the forefront.” 

Complete job descriptions will be created if voters approve the communications and sustainability positions, which are contained in the town administration portion of the budget.  

Sewer and water bond 

Voters will be asked to authorize the town to borrow up to $43.9M for needed upgrades to its sewer and water systems.  

If approved, the funds would provide approximately $30 million for sewer upgrades, $5.5 million for water projects and roughly $8 million for a streetscape project on Cottage Street to be completed at the same time as the infrastructure upgrades. The town most recently discussed a new streetscape design in 2017, but the project never moved past the design phase. 

At the core of the request is the need to make improvements to remedy the issues with the town’s combined sewer and stormwater overflow system. Bar Harbor is licensed by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to operate a combined sewer overflow, which, when the system reaches capacity, discharges directly into Frenchman Bay. The town monitors the discharge and reports back to the state. Capacity levels are typically reached when stormwater infiltrates the aging system.   

The upgrades would include the addition of a storage tank to hold more effluent to lessen the amount discharging in the bay, upgrades to three pumping stations, upsized piping and relining portions of the existing piping. On the water side, the project includes a new storage tank that will help increase overall pressure in the system. 

The repayment of the bond would cause a steep rise to water and sewer bills. It was estimated by the town’s finance officer in March that the sewer rate could double, and the water rate could rise by about 20 percent. Those cost increases would not take effect until 2023, and council members said they would look for ways either to reduce overall borrowing or to help mitigate the rising costs for residents.   

June 14 referendum 

The following week, voters will head to the polls for an all-day referendum, which will take place on June 14 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the municipal building auditorium. There they will elect municipal and school board candidates, weigh in on two land use ordinance amendments and a citizen petition involving retail marijuana.  

On the ballot, incumbents Jeff Dobbs and Matt Hochman, who currently serve as chair and vice chair of the Town Council respectively, are unopposed and seeking reelection to two three-year seats. 

On the Superintending School Committee for which there are two three-year terms available, incumbent Alexandra “Lilea” Simis will face William Hodgdon and Tyson Starling. The top two vote getters will win the seats.   

Incumbents Julie Berberian, Robert Chaplin, Louise Lopez and Jeffery Young are seeking reelection to the Warrant Committee along with newcomer Eben Salvatore for the five three-year terms. Incumbent Cara Ryan will be a declared write-in candidate.  

Incumbent Robert C. Webber will be a declared write-in candidate for a three-year seat as a Mount Desert Island School District trustee. 

Land use ordinance amendments 

New owners of a once-popular aquarium off Route 3 hope to expand. In order to do so, its zoning must change from a shoreland zone to a marine research district.  

The problem is the 19-acre, five-building property is a nonconforming use in its shoreland limited residential district, which hampers the chances of expansion. If the property could be rezoned as marine research, it would open up the ability to expand. 

Similarly, The Jackson Laboratory is seeking to expand the scientific research zoning around its campus to include eight parcels in the so-called “triangle” area between Schooner Head Road and Route 3.   

All the parcels are contiguous with the 80-acre core campus and are owned by the lab. However, not all are zoned the same. The majority of the outlying parcels are zoned as village residential and exist under a different set of standards and setback requirements. Setbacks would increase from 20 feet to 100 feet if the zoning were to change. 

At a Planning Board hearing in December, John Fitzpatrick, senior director of facility services, and Mike McKernan, director of community relations, laid out the organization’s plans for the united parcel.   

“Rezoning would allow JAX to include these parcels into the denominator of total lot coverage and would allow us to grow the lab at the core campus rather than sprawl out to other areas of town,” said McKernan. He said the change to a scientific zone would provide flexibility in nine residential units to provide short-term housing for students and scientists below the 30-day threshold, which is not allowed in the village residential district zone.   

Fitzpatrick added that the change would give the lab the ability to house conference attendees who typically come to campus for one or two weeks during the summer months for education purposes and compete for housing in an already tight summer market, or “as a landing pad” for new staff members undecided about where to locate permanently.   

“This will also allow us to concentrate on the core campus where there is already existing infrastructure such as water and sewer, Fitzpatrick added.   

In the short term, all the parcels would retain the current use as either undeveloped parcels or housing. In the long term, when the residences have reached the end of their useful life, they would be razed, said McKernan.   

Citizen petition 

Voters will get to vote on an ordinance that would regulate retail marijuana in town. The ordinance, if adopted, would become part of the town’s code and allow two stores to operate in the zones where retail is already allowed. It also lays out licensing and application requirements and standards and proposes compatible changes to the land use ordinance.   

The businesses would not be allowed within 1,000 feet of the property line of a school or within 500 feet of the College of the Atlantic campus, Mount Desert Island Hospital, day cares, houses of worship and recreational areas for children. 

Received through the citizen petition process, the Town Council chose not to adopt the measure and opted to send the matter to the voters. The petition was signed by 450 residents. 

Faith DeAmbrose

Faith DeAmbrose

Managing Editor at Mount Desert Islander

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