SOUTHWEST HARBOR — The Board of Selectmen here is on its third chair in as many weeks, after Lydia Goetze resigned the chairmanship during budget meetings in January.
Conflicts over the budget, which is set to increase 14 percent, and the search for a new town manager prompted the decision, she said this week. “I just don’t feel that at this point I can lead the board effectively and work with Don Lagrange.”
Selectman Chad Terry, who serves as assistant chairperson, chaired the board meeting Jan. 23. But by the end of it, he resigned as well.
“I have too much going on this time of year,” he said. “When I took the assistant chair position, I figured I’d have to fill in here and there, I did not think I would be sitting here. At this time I cannot handle it.”
George Jellison moved to appoint Dan Norwood, who is in his final term, to chair, and the board voted in favor.
A $90,000 addition to administration costs for hiring a full-time manager has been a primary source of the conflicts. Current manager Don Lagrange is set to retire June 30, but the board has agreed to have him continue as the town’s code enforcement officer (CEO) three days a week.
In a split 3-2 vote on Jan. 23, selectmen decided to keep working with the Maine Municipal Association on the search for a full-time new manager.
Lagrange, however, is not convinced that this is a justified cost: “To replace me, it’s going to cost the town a lot more money,” he said this week. He said his business savvy and ability to wear many hats has allowed him to manage the town in the most efficient way possible, he said.
“It’s why we were able to keep the tax rate the same for five years. Were there any problems over the past six years that I wasn’t aware of?”
Goetze agreed that Lagrange had been effective in saving taxpayers money at times, but she said the town has a history of being “penny wise and pound foolish.”
She argues the bump in the budget stems from the new, separate CEO position, which she thinks is excessive. The town needs a qualified full-time manager, she said, who actively applies for grants and devotes more effort to economic development.
The board will have a final opportunity to make adjustments at next Tuesday’s meeting, before the budget is passed on to the Warrant Committee for recommendations.
Selectman Dan Norwood said the budget contains “too large of an increase for one year” and would like to have the budget pared back.
The most significant increase is in debt service, which went up by roughly $320,000 due to an infrastructure program that residents voted in favor of last year.
The project will include resurfacing Fernald Point Road, Village Green parking, Village Green Way, Clark Point Road (Main St to Herrick), Hillcrest Acres, Shore Road (from Spar Cottage to Kings Lane to Seawall Road), Freeman Ridge and Robinson Lane.
It also includes design work, utilities reconstruction and road resurfacing on Cedar Lane, Robinson Hill and Claremont Road. The sidewalk and railing at the bulkhead across Claremont Road will be reconstructed and made adequate for storm water drainage.
Police and dispatch budgets will include a $16,338 increase for a pension program to be offered to full-time police officers – a “reasonable increase” according to Lagrange, to keep the town’s police department competitive.
The Tremont Nursing Association will receive $5,000 more than the previous budget, because of their vital service to the town, according to Selectmen George Jellison.
The purchase of the Hook property eliminated the annual $8,000 lease, which reduced the harbor budget by 6 percent.