MOUNT DESERT — The Select Board Tuesday night tabled a proposal to pay the local environmental organization, A Climate to Thrive (ACTT), $9,630 to help develop a climate action plan for the town.
The remaining $6,420 of the total cost would be grant funded.
The board asked Town Manager Durlin Lunt to bring to their next meeting a recommendation for funding the town’s portion.
Voters at town meeting in May adopted a resolution declaring a “climate emergency” that commits the town to working toward achieving zero carbon emissions by 2031.
According to the ACTT proposal, the process of developing an action plan would start with listening sessions with town government department heads, “community leaders” and members of the public. The goal would be to complete the plan this coming winter so that it could be put before voters at town meeting in May.
The town’s sustainability committee recommended that ACTT be retained to help with the action plan.
“I think this is something we need to do, and it should be done now,” Select Board member Geoff Wood said.
Board Chairman John Macauley said developing an action plan would be too much to expect the all-volunteer sustainability committee to do on its own.
“It’s probably a pretty good investment to go ahead [with ACTT],” he said. “It is a fairly small amount of money; I don’t say that lightly. But I think we will move more quickly if we do something along this line.”
But board member Martha Dudman said, “This makes me uncomfortable. We haven’t talked to any other professionals who might be able to provide these services.”
She also noted that one member of the sustainability committee works for ACTT, and another has a connection to the organization.
“It just makes me uneasy,” Dudman said. “I think the work needs to be done; I’m not convinced this is the best way for us to do it.”
Sustainability committee member Gordon Beck, who also works on a project for ACTT, said he would have no financial interest in the climate action plan.
“I think it would be pretty shortsighted to delay and reject this pretty expedient way of getting going on a climate action plan,” Beck said. “It seems that this is the time to spend a reasonable amount of money on getting a plan together.
“We could spend a few more months looking around for other professionals, but I guarantee you they will cost more.”
Beck said he would be willing to step away from the sustainability committee if there is any concern about him having a conflict of interest.
Sustainability committee member and Mount Desert 365 Executive Director Kathy Miller said, “If we were to go out and find somebody else to do this, it would take a very long time…and it would undoubtedly cost more money. We want to get it done right. I trust that A Climate to Thrive is well versed in…the things we should be looking at in a way that we volunteers on the committee are not.”
Public Works Director Tony Smith said he is in favor of retaining ACTT to help develop a climate action plan and suggested that $6,600 of the town’s cost be shared equally by six town departments.
“We’re all in this together,” he said.
But the other department heads have not been asked if they would be willing to contribute $1,100 each from their budgets.
Select Board member Matt Hart said he felt uncomfortable about trying to find funds for projects outside the annual budgeting process.
“I completely agree we need to do all we can, but there’s a process that has to be followed,” Hart said.
But Macauley said that finding money for projects that aren’t in the budget is not unprecedented. Wood agreed.
“It’s flabbergasting to me that we’re getting hung up on protocols when we don’t have another plan in place,” he said. “I would be very disappointed if we lose this for another year, which we are talking about doing, or asking the committee of volunteers to draft something as important as this.”
Police Chief Jim Willis suggested that the board table the matter for two weeks and ask the town manager to propose a way for the town to pay its share of the cost for ACTT to develop a climate action plan. The board members unanimously agreed.