BAR HARBOR—An hour and a half into the Mount Desert Town Meeting on Tuesday, before the Mount Desert School budget was to be approved, the sound of car engines broke the stillness of the high school parking lot and a few registered town voters made their exit.
“I would respectfully urge anybody who can stay to please stay,” said Town Meeting moderator Bill Ferm. Attendance was now down to 55 voters, Ferm told the crowd. According to the town charter, 50 registered voters were required to meet quorum, he reminded them.
Town Manager Durlin Lunt told the Islander that in a normal year, a Town Meeting in May would draw about 150 people. This year, the Aug. 11 drive-in Town Meeting was conducted from a tent in the Mount Desert Island High School parking lot, with a small, spread-out group of voters casting their yea or nay votes with cards out their car windows.
“I was pleased with how it went; everyone did a good job. I think the people took it seriously,” Lunt said, with “good debates, good questions and good answers.”
Despite the unusual circumstances of the meeting, all the warrant items were passed, including town and school budgets, and Land Use Zoning Ordinance (LUZO) amendments.
Without discussion, voters approved the LUZO amendment to create a new zoning district, which will allow Asticou Inn to rehabilitate and expand. They approved a proposal to allow rooming houses in the Village Commercial zoning district. Voters also approved spending $295,000 to match funds of the Maine Department of Transportation to complete a section of Route 198.
Voters approved amended due dates for property tax payments, due to this year’s delay in Town Meeting, and the approval of the budget. Voters approved a tax due date of Sept. 1, with a four percent interest accruing starting Nov. 1. Tax bills will be mailed out the last week in August, according to the town website.
Voters passed a $4.5 million school budget. This was an amended school budget, down from $4.7 million that the school board had recommended earlier. The budget was reduced thanks to lower–than–expected medical insurance costs for staff and the school’s success in locking in a low heating oil price.
Some voters took to the mic and asked if the money shouldn’t be left in the budget due to costs associated with increased safety measures because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mount Desert Elementary School Principal Gloria Delsandro answered that the school had received almost $200,000 in emergency funds from the state and they were able to get Personal Protection Equipment from the Department of Education at no cost. “A lot of our safety precautions are protocols,” Delsandro said. “We’re in a comfortable place.”
The town-owned Bait House on Dodge Point Road in Seal Harbor sparked the most debate before voters decided to extend the lease between the Seal Harbor Fishermen’s Association and the town and allocate an additional $70,000 to bring the building up to code.
“What is the public access [to the Bait House]?” asked resident Tom Savage.
Public Works Director Tony Smith answered, “It was specifically given to the town to be used by the fishermen.” Though the Seal Harbor Fishermen’s Association currently only has one member, Smith explained, he hoped the recent publicity of the Bait House would increase interest in membership.
Savage asked if the town had plans to add a wharf “to allow it to be more accessible” from the water.
Smith said, “We can look at it down the road, certainly.”
At the end of the meeting, Lunt announced that Bill Ferm was the recipient of the Spirit of America Award, awarded to someone each year for volunteer service to the town. Ferm, as well as moderating Town Meeting, serves on the Warrant Committee.