MOUNT DESERT — Wendy Littlefield and Matt Hart were re-elected to three-year terms on the Board of Selectmen in voting on Monday, outpolling challenger Ian Schwartz.
Littlefield received 216 votes, Hart 180 and Schwartz 55.
Todd Graham and Teresa King-LeClair were re-elected to three-year terms on the Mount Desert School Committee, having run unopposed.
At the open floor Town Meeting Tuesday night, voters approved a ban on single-use plastic carryout bags and polystyrene food containers, a bond issue for sidewalk work, repairs to a retaining wall near the Seal Harbor Yacht Club and work on the town-owned “bait house.”
The $10.2 million municipal operations budget and $4 million Mount Desert Elementary School budget were approved as presented, but funding for the town’s economic development consultant sparked debate.
Mount Desert became the third Mount Desert Island town to pass the ordinances on plastic bags and polystyrene containers, after a group of then-eighth-grade students began promoting the change last spring. Tremont is set to vote on similar ordinances next week. Last week, Governor Janet Mills signed into law a statewide polystyrene food container ban, the first such state law in the country. But the new ordinances go into effect immediately (May 8), and the change in state law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2021.
The town only received one bid for the project to bring 28 crosswalks up to current safety and accessibility standards, Public Works Director Tony Smith said, but “we worked with them to make sure it was a fair price.” The town has contracted with R.F. Jordan & Sons for the work.
At least $80,000 of the $428,920 project budget is for traffic control, Smith said.
Voters approved spending up to $160,000 to rebuild the granite retaining wall on Steamboat Wharf Road, with no discussion, but they did express concerns about the Seal Harbor bait house.
The town owns the 22’ x 30’ waterfront building and leases it to a fishermen’s co-op, Smith explained. The bait house does not have a dock, but its ladder is accessible by dinghy at high tide. Currently only one member of the co-op is actively using the bait house.
“It seems like it’s being used as a private facility funded by the town,” said Tom Savage, a member of the Warrant Committee.
The lease is up next year, and the town hopes to make changes to the agreement to allow for use of the space by more fishermen and more of the public. A revised lease is expected to go to voters at the 2020 Town Meeting.
The bait house, Selectman Rick Mooers said, “represents a small sliver of what’s called a working waterfront, that’s disappearing all over the coast of Maine.”
The article passed on a voice vote with two “nays.”
The question of $44,000 in funding for economic/community development was the most contentious of the evening. The town has contracted with an independent economic development consultant, Jackie Hewitt, part-time since 2013. She works closely with a volunteer economic development committee, helping, Selectman Matt Hart said, to “keep them on track.”
A portion of her fees have been paid by the Summer Residents Association.
Some voters said they were frustrated with the progress and direction of that work. Stephanie Reece said she didn’t see Hewett at several meetings related to the Northeast Harbor Main Street project last year and, at another meeting, Hewett was there but representing another entity.
Savage said the economic development initiatives seemed to be “getting lost,” citing last year’s controversy over the Northeast Harbor Main Street project as an example, saying it “wasn’t well explained.”
Katrina Carter suggested the town hire a full-time staff member responsible for economic development, as the towns of Bucksport, Belfast and Millinocket have.
But members of the committee, which is not an official permanent town committee, defended the work and Hewett’s role.
“We have put so much time and effort into this,” said Wendy Wood. “I believe in volunteers. I hope this is not opposed, because all that hard work will have been for nothing.
Sam McGee encouraged those with concerns to join the committee. “Come and have those discussions,” he said, “and let’s talk about it for the next Town Meeting. Let’s not cut the process off at the knees.”
The $44,000 funding was approved, after an amendment from the floor to reduce it by half failed.
The public works budget received a few “nay” votes because, one Warrant Committee member said, it includes nine percent raises for the department head and for the highway superintendent. Town Manager Durlin Lunt said that’s because those two employees had just reached the 15-year mark with the town, and the new personnel policy for non-union employees includes a raise at 15 years, to encourage employees to stay with the town.
Dick Broom contributed to this report.