Big budget increase approved Hutchins elected to board

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Compensation for the code enforcement officer, a role current Town Manager Don Lagrange will continue to fill when he steps down as manager June 30, was the closest vote at Monday’s town meeting here.

Seventy-nine registered voters participated in the meeting in the Pemetic Elementary School auditorium. They approved a roughly $7.5 million budget that impacts more than 1,700 residents. Final numbers on how the property tax rate will change are not yet available.

Lagrange is retiring as town manager, but he will continue to serve as code enforcement officer and plumbing inspector for three more years, starting July 1. Selectmen approved that plan in March of 2017, entering a contract with Lagrange that also increases the CEO’s hours from 10 to 18 hours a week.

Resident Michael Young made a motion to reduce the code enforcement officer’s salary to $23,958.48.

“I feel that our code enforcement officer has only worked 10 hours a week as an average for the past seven years. I don’t feel that it’s necessary for him to go up to 18 hours a week. This is based on a pay grade of $35 an hour, which I think is more than fair, plus all of the benefits,” he said.

Snow said he thought Young’s suggestion was fair, based on the state’s average salary for code enforcement officers with more than eight years of experience.

Board of Selectman Chair Dan Norwood, who is retiring from the board, said the selectmen already authorized this salary for the CEO and that the contract was binding.

Young withdrew his motion, but the article was still contested. The $46,197 appropriation for code enforcement was approved in a close hand-count vote, 29-25.

With the budget for a new full-time town manager, the allocation for town administration salaries increased $80,000.

Aside from the new manager’s salary line, LaGrange said, administration salaries have remained the same for the past six or seven years. He added that in some cases, selectmen approved a slight bump in the hourly wage to make some positions comparable with other communities or for people who have assumed more duties.

The $3.69 million school budget was authorized without issue. Final health insurance rates slightly reduced the original sum requested by the school.

Debt service of $653,271 passed after Selectman George Jellison suggested an amendment to reflect more updated figures.

Resident Dick Diamond asked why the appropriation for debt service was significantly more than the previous year. Lagrange explained that the $207,560 in water-sewer bonds will be paid back to the town in form of revenues. He added that without the 2018 infrastructure plan, the amount is comparable to 2017-2018.

Kristin Hutchins, who served on the Warrant Committee, stated for the purpose of clarity that the Warrant Committee had not reviewed the line item “2018 Infrastructure” for $120,000.

Don Lodge, who spoke on behalf of the Warrant Committee, said the budget materials were presented in a confusing way this year.

“We got explanations verbally, but when you read it, it was very difficult sometimes to understand,” he said.

He added that the committee made a strong recommendation to the board to improve transparency and communication.

Diamond proposed increasing the town’s contribution to the Southwest Harbor Public Library by $5,000, to $60,000.

“The library is perhaps one of our greatest assets. It has grown year by year in programming. It has grown year by year in terms of people who go to the library and use it, many of whom use it every day,” he said. “It’s an extraordinary asset to the school as well, and the library has not received an increase in our allocation since 2011.”

His amendment was approved.

Voters approved an appropriation of $244,100 into 12 reserve accounts, up by $35,000 from what was budgeted in the town warrant. This is due to an amendment to the legal and accounting reserve which brought the allocation up from $55,000 to $90,000.

The town is involved in a lawsuit filed by former town office employee Tabbetha Newenham last March. She alleged that the town owes her unpaid wages. The town also has filed its own complaint against Newenham, accusing her of fraud.

Given current litigation, Young proposed the increase so that the reserve account, which will stand at negative $29,960 by the end of the fiscal year, is brought closer to the $25,000 goal balance.

Diamond asked the selectmen to consider replenishing reserve accounts over time, so that residents don’t end up carrying a heavy load at once, as will be the case next year.

“I realize well that the best you can do is make educated guesses in some places, but I’m wondering if there is a way to smooth out over time the allocations to these reserve funds,” he said.

Young suggested amending article 55, which authorizes municipal officers to dispose of town-owned personal property with a value of $20,000 or less as they see fit. He thought the amount should be capped at $5,000 or less, and that property of higher value should be put to public bid in order to ensure transparency.

Jellison said he thought $20,000 was a reasonable amount. Selectman Chad Terry gave a recent example, where the town donated a fire truck to junior firefighters, which would not have been possible if the amount was restricted to $5,000.

After several selectmen said they’d put most large items to bid anyway, Young retracted his amendment and the article was passed as originally written.

Hutchins, who ran uncontested for a three-year term on the Board of Selectmen this year, was elected with 157 votes by secret ballot on Tuesday.

Amendments to the definition of “structure” in the land use ordinance were approved with 155 votes in favor, 44 votes against. The cruise ship ban passed with 150 votes in favor, 44 opposed. New harbor ordinances in the coastal waters and harbor ordinance were enacted with 170 yes votes and 28 no votes.

John Bench, who ran for one of two open seats on the School Committee, earned 144 votes. Write-in candidate Susan Allen will take the other seat with 50 votes.

Ann Ratcliff, with 170 votes, will replace Michael Sawyer on the MDI High School Board of Trustees.



Henriette Chacar

Henriette Chacar

Former Islander reporter Henriette Chacar covered the towns of Southwest Harbor and Tremont.
Henriette Chacar

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