SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Selectmen voted 4-1 Tuesday to table indefinitely a proposal that would cap the total amount of funds requested by community service organizations on the annual town meeting warrant.
Town Manager Don Lagrange suggested the spending cap at an Oct. 25 selectmen’s meeting. As proposed, the total dollar amount voters could approve for these nonprofit organizations would be set at $205,000. Voters at the last annual town meeting in May approved a total of $203,000, split between 14 organizations.
Selectmen, at the October meeting, were open to considering the cap, saying it would make it easier when it comes to setting a budget. But they did have concerns about the process needed to override the cap if voters chose to do so. Lagrange asked town attorney Lee Bragg for an opinion, which was provided to selectmen Tuesday.
Bragg said the amount of the cap could be amended only through a warrant article at a town meeting. Selectmen could place the article on the warrant or residents could petition selectmen to do so as long as the petition has the required number of signatures, which must equal or exceed the number of voters who turned out for the last gubernatorial election.
If that were to happen, the change to the cap would not go into effect until the following year’s town meeting.
Ingrid Wilbur Kachmar, the executive director of Harbor House Community Service Center, questioned why selectmen were considering the cap. Harbor House annually receives town funds for its youth center and sports programs. At the May town meeting, voters approved $59,640 for Harbor House, the most money appropriated for any of the community service organization.
Wilbur Kachmar pointed out that the cap does not take into account the rising costs of operating a community service organization.
Selectman George Jellison, who cast the lone opposing vote, argued that the cap is designed to keep the municipal budget under control.
“The trend here since I’ve been on the board is to flat-fund everything,” he said.
Lagrange, responding to another question from Wilbur Kachmar, said the funds approved this year for community service organizations amounts to 6.5 percent of the municipal budget.
“6.5 percent is such a negligible part of the budget,” Wilbur Kachmar responded. “To me it seems you’re attacking the wrong piece of the budget.”
Selectman Lydia Goetze agreed.
“It seems awfully draconian to have this restriction,” Goetze said. “In some places, these services are paid for entirely by the town budget. It doesn’t feel democratic to me.”
Selectman Dan Norwood said the recommendation selectmen make on the town meeting warrant regarding funding for these organizations is an attempt to control costs and is sufficient.
“Certainly we need to control our spending and draw the line, but I don’t think we need this document,” he said.
The $203,000 approved in May for the 2016-2017 budget includes, along with the $59,640 for Harbor House, $55,000 for the Southwest Harbor Public Library, $57,500 for the Southwest Harbor-Tremont Ambulance Service and $10,000 for the Island Explorer. Funding for the remaining 10 organizations totaled $21,824 and ranged from $1,000 for Hospice of Hancock County to $3,574 for the Washington-Hancock Community Agency.