League leaders establish list of regional priorities

MOUNT DESERT — The future of municipal waste disposal and the potential restructuring of county government are the top priorities for 2015 for the League of Towns.

Leaders from Mount Desert Island-area towns gathered in Somesville on Oct. 15 to set their priorities for the year. Rounding out their top four issues were improving regional broadband internet access and studying the potential of creating an island-wide police force.

“Each League of Towns meeting, these four items will be standing agenda items,” league chairman Durlin Lunt told the Islander. “Hopefully we can accomplish some of these things over the next year.”

Even while it is first on their agenda list, there is not much that member towns can do concerning the municipal waste issue. In 2018, the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company facility in Orrington that now takes municipal waste from the area and converts it into electricity will lose its state subsidy. That could create serious consequences for the towns that rely on it.

At their Oct. 15 meeting, town leaders heard from Greg Lounder, the executive director of the Municipal Review Committee, the group that represents the trash interests of nearly 200 towns. Mr. Lounder explained the steps his group is going through to try to create new options for trash disposal, including construction of a facility to convert municipal solid waste to liquid fuel.

“We’re going to continue to monitor what the status is of solid waste and what communities need to do to have an impact on that,” Lunt said. “We’ll be working further with Greg on this.”

County government is another area where local towns seem to have little say, even while they support it with property tax dollars. Currently, Hancock County is run by a group of elected commissioners. But league officials have had many complaints about how things have been run over the past several years. The town leaders on Oct. 15 reiterated their desire for a close examination of how the county government is structured and for potential other options, such as switching to a county administrator type of governance.

“I don’t think either policy or administration is being done well under the current setup. I don’t see how it could be. It’s too large an organization, and it’s being run by a small town board of selectmen,” Mr. Lunt said. “It may have worked 20 years ago, but I don’t think it works today.”

At their next meeting, the league will host County Commissioner Steven Joy, of Ellsworth, along with the county administrator from Cumberland County to begin looking into the matter. League members remain firm in their desire to see a charter commission set up to explore possibilities in county government structure, Lunt said.

Studying ways to improve broadband internet access is the third priority set at the Oct. 15 meeting. Mount Desert currently has a proposal in hand for a broadband study, but will hold off while other towns look into whether they want to join the efforts, Mr. Lunt said.

“If you’re going to have true economic development, certainly to attract those types of businesses, companies and individuals, you’re going to have to have a real solid communication system. A lot of entrepreneurs now need more than we have to run businesses.” Lunt said. “We’d like to find out if other league members want to have a joint strategy instead of just our community. It’s not something I think we can easily accomplish by ourselves.”

Finally, town officials agreed to continue looking into consolidating their police departments. The idea has been forming since Bar Harbor and Mount Desert entered into a temporary chief-sharing arrangement last year. Southwest Harbor recently expressed interest in the idea.

“The four towns on the island are going to look at what would be the possibilities of looking at consolidation down the road and report back next year. Not that we are saying that’s the way to go, but that it’s time to take a look at that,” Lunt said. “We should know very quickly whether that’s a realistic goal or not.”

Robert Levin

Robert Levin

Former reporter Robert Levin covered the people, businesses, governmental and nonprofit agencies of Bar Harbor. [email protected]
Robert Levin

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