SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Voters here will face two local questions when they go to the polls on Election Day, Nov. 3. Whether to purchase property near the Manset Town Dock for use as a parking lot and whether to merge the town’s water and sewer departments to create a water and sewer district are both on the ballot.
Town officials have scheduled a public hearing on both issues for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13, at the Southwest Harbor Fire Station.
In August, the owners of the Knote property on the Shore Road agreed to sell the property to the town for $600,000. The sale is contingent upon voter approval at the Nov. 3 elections.
Proponents of the purchase contend that the benefits of constructing a parking lot on the property would be two-fold.
First, it would ease parking congestion near the busy Manset dock. The town currently leases the nearby Hook property for some of the overflow parking, but town officials acknowledge the arrangement is tenuous and attempts to purchase the lot have been unsuccessful.
Second, the parking lot would generate revenue for the town through both paid parking and by allowing for additional moorings in the harbor.
Under the plan developed by Town Manager Don Lagrange, the parking lot would have 80 spaces, including some for vehicles towing trailers. Users would pay with a debit or credit card at a computerized gate. Lagrange has estimated the lot would generate more than $8,000 annually.
With parking on the town’s waterfront at a premium, not just in Manset but also at the other two town docks, setting new moorings in the harbor essentially would not make sense without the additional parking. Parking is needed in order give boat owners access to the new moorings and the revenue they would generate, officials have said.
Demolition of a home on the Knote property and construction of the parking lot is estimated to cost $350,000.
Lagrange has identified four potential sources of grants that could be used for harbor-related activities such as development of the parking lot. If voters approve the Knote property purchase, Southwest Harbor would apply for these grants, and if successful, the funds would reduce the out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the town.
The harbor committee and planning board have both given their approval to the parking lot plan. In addition, the town’s comprehensive plan recommends increasing public access to the harbor.
Voters also will weigh-in on whether to approve the creation of a Southwest Harbor Sewer and Water District. The Legislature approved the charter for the district in June.
Voter support would result in the merging of the town’s water and sewer departments to create the district. A separate ballot question asks if voters favor the transfer of assets from the water and sewer departments to the district.
Creation of the district is seen by town officials as a way to get the costs of running the public utilities under control.
Historically, user fees for the water and sewer departments have not kept up with costs. At one time, the departments had borrowed almost $1 million from the town’s general fund to maintain operations. The water department has since reimbursed the town, but the sewer department still needs to repay about $535,000.
Southwest Harbor has the 34th highest water rates and the 16th highest sewer rates of the approximately 155 municipalities surveyed in Maine, town officials have said.
The district would have a three-member board of directors. One of those directors would be the town manager; the other two would be appointed by selectmen. Day-to-day operation of the district would fall to a superintendent/manager, which would be a new position in the town.
Proponents claim the oversight provided by the directors and their focus on the bottom line will lead to more economical operations.
Capital expenditures by the district would need the approval of selectmen. Any bond issues for the district would need the okay of voters at a town meeting.