BAR HARBOR — Funds for a proposed engineering study for a town-owned fiber-optic network to connect municipal buildings were cut from the 2017 budget, following a close vote by residents at Tuesday’s annual town meeting.
Most of the municipal and school budget questions passed with overwhelming support from the roughly 150 residents gathered in the Emerson school gym.
The broadband study funds were the difference between budgets recommended by the Warrant Committee and the Town Council. An amendment from Councilor Clark Stivers to add the broadband funding to a Capital Improvement Program account as proposed by the council failed by a vote of 47-57.
“A majority of the council thinks it’s prudent to have some money in the account in case things change with our agreement,” Stivers said. The town currently enjoys use of a fiber network owned by Charter Communications, formerly Time Warner, at no cost.
Warrant Committee Chair John Dargis said his committee was split on the issue. It initially voted 9-7 to remove the $50,000 from the budget, he said. They took other votes during the budget process, and the results were similar.
Warrant Committee Secretary Seth Libby defended the committee’s decision not to appropriate the funds until more information is available.
“We need to have offers in writing from the private sector providers to compare with the estimates from Tilson” of what a town-owned network would cost to build and operate, he said.
Libby said the town is part of a consortium of Eastern Maine municipalities that have franchise agreements with Time Warner, which are being re-negotiated. “We have never heard from the consortium’s lawyer that the fiber is going to be taken away.”
Council Chair Paul Paradis said the council believes having the funds available would place the town in a better bargaining position.
“We need to barter hard to keep what we have,” Councilor David Bowden said. He recommended splitting a requested $100,000 for the study over two budget years, he said, because he agrees more information is needed. “And, build-your-own isn’t even an option if you don’t start to put money away.”
Another budget amendment was offered by resident Arthur Greif, proposing to move $250,000 out of the town’s insurance reserves and use it to reduce taxes.
Finance Director Stan Harmon said that reserve account was increased five years ago after a sewer backup into a hotel “almost exceeded the insurance levels that we had.”
Warrant Committee member James Kitler suggested that the reserve account is a substantive issue, “appropriate to be brought before the council and the Warrant Committee. This is not the forum to decide the issue,” he said.
Greif’s amendment failed on a voice vote.
The town meeting recognized outgoing Councilor Bowden and Warrant Committee member Roz Rea.
The Warrant Committee for 2016-2017 will include new members Rosemary Gladstone and Michael Tadenev.
Total budgets of $5.4 million for Conners Emerson, $10.9 million for town government and $3.6 million in Mount Desert Island High School and Hancock County assessments will translate to an approximate 1.3 percent rise in property taxes.