SOUTHWEST HARBOR – “Marilyn, can you read the motion back to us?” asked Dan Norwood, chair of the Board of Selectmen.
His request was met with laughter from the selectmen and residents who attended the Tuesday meeting. They were 40 minutes into a discussion about proposed upgrades to the playground at Pemetic Elementary School, which elicited robust debate, again.
In a 3-2 vote, selectmen approved borrowing $180,000 from the town’s unassigned fund balance toward reconstructing the playground. The sum is to be returned in $30,000 installments over six years.
The split among the selectmen was not over whether to support the initiative — variations of the phrase “I’m all for the project” were iterated repeatedly throughout the meeting — but over how to fund it.
Selectmen Ryan Donahue, Lydia Goetze and Chad Terry voted in favor of the plan. Norwood and George Jellison were opposed.
Norwood preferred to see if voters want to borrow the funds to be repaid over a 10-year term so as not to dip further below 20 percent into the unassigned fund balance. The borrowing mechanism would not be a bond issue, he said.
The unassigned fund balance is the term for residual resources left in a town’s general fund which are usually reserved for emergencies and to provide fiscal stability.
Officials recommend that governments maintain that balance around 12 percent, but two years ago, Southwest Harbor residents decided to set it to 20 percent.
The recent purchase of the Hook property decreased the unassigned fund balance here by $325,000, according to Town Manager Don Lagrange. If the reconstruction of the playground is approved, the balance could go down to about 18.7 percent, according to a resident’s quick calculation at the meeting.
The school reduced its request significantly from the earlier $294,691 proposal to a total of $177,329. It also budgeted $41,628 from its revenue toward the project and has started a playground reserve account for future playground maintenance.
Principal Rhonda Fortin and the engineer helping the school navigate the project, Greg Johnston, were at the meeting to answer questions that selectmen had brought up at previous meetings.
Johnston said they have discovered an existing drainage basin in the playground area, therefore installation of new drainage will not be necessary. In a meeting with Fortin, Superintendent Marc Gousse, Lagrange and Norwood in March, it was decided that a boundary survey was not required, so the wall would not have to be reconstructed.
To make the June ballot, selectmen have to draft and sign an article by April 27, said Town Clerk Marilyn Lowell.