MOUNT DESERT — The annual open floor town meeting came to an abrupt halt Tuesday night when a former town treasurer and selectman pointed out that votes on budget items would be illegal.
Jean Bonville cited the town charter, which requires that the town issue an annual report at least 10 days prior to the town meeting. The charter states that the annual report shall include, among other things, “the report of the annual audit of the town’s accounts.”
Bonville said the town does not yet have an audit report for fiscal year 2013-2014.
“It’s not to say that the figures they were going to vote on will change,” Bonville said Wednesday. “What it does say is that without your audit, you do not have final figures to work with.”
The town’s last complete audit is for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. Bonville called that “inexcusable.”
“It’s not the way to do business,” she said. “It’s like having a two-year unbalanced checkbook.”
Town Manager Durlin Lunt said the auditor, an accountant with the James W. Wadman CPA firm in Ellsworth, had expected to complete the audit in time for the town meeting but was unable to do so.
“I feel very bad that by not checking on that, we put the town into that position,” Lunt said. “I take full responsibility for that. It’s my fault.”
He said the audit definitely will be completed prior to the resumption of the town meeting next month.
Lunt said he is consulting with legal counsel on how the failure to have the audit incorporated into the town report affects other votes taken at the town meeting May 4 and 5.
“My goal this week is to sort that out and find out whether the problem affects the whole thing or whether everything we did up to this point is fine, and we just proceed with the financials,” he said.
Resumption of the town meeting to vote on budgets has been scheduled for June 9.
Food trucks approved
Prior to the suspension of business, residents voted 84-72 to allow a few food trucks to do business in certain town-owned waterfront parking lots, such as at the Northeast Harbor Marina.
A number of people spoke – some of them passionately and eloquently – on both sides of the question. Some said food trucks would help revitalize the town, particularly Northeast Harbor, by attracting more visitors. Others argued that food trucks only would hurt existing businesses.
“I think if we had a really diverse, first-class set of a few food trucks, people would come from all over the island,” said Linda Lewis. “I really think it would create interest and buzz and commerce for the town.”
Emily Damon, who has owned two restaurants in town, including Watermark at the Kimball Terrace Inn the past two years, said food trucks are a way for young entrepreneurs to get a start in business.
“If I still had Watermark this year, I would still be 1,000 percent for these food trucks,” she said. “It would help my business because more people would be coming into town. The more options we have, the more people we’re going to get here, which is going to help everybody.”
But Erin Gray, who owns the Pine Tree Market with her husband, Aaron, said food trucks at the marina in the summer would hurt their business.
“We make 85 percent of our income in July and August, and we need that income, or we’re not going to be able to keep the Pine Tree open,” Gray said. “We work so hard, and we want to be here, but we’re not going to be able to if we have to compete with businesses that don’t have to pay taxes.”
George Davis said that rather than attracting more visitors, food trucks could have the opposite effect.
“We’ve got to realize that it’s the tourists that pay the bills,” he said. “Tourists come up here for the beauty of the island and to get away from the food trucks in New York City.”
Steve Weinreich agreed, saying, “Food trucks can only hurt the local businesses. They will not bring people into town. It simply isn’t going to happen.”
But Sheridy Olson said food trucks at the harbor in Camden are a plus for that town.
“They’re not ugly. They take care of the trash. There’s good food,” she said. “And most people who eat there walk up and down the street all day long and shop with the merchants and eat at the restaurants.”
Under the ordinance that voters approved, food truck operators would have to apply for a license to the town. Only five licenses could be in effect at any one time. Mobile food vendors would be charged a license fee to be determined by the board of selectmen.
The town’s economic development committee had originally suggested that food trucks might be allowed at the parking lots at the beach and town pier in Seal Harbor. But selectman Matt Hart, who is a member of the committee, said that the group has decided that Seal Harbor should be “off the table” for now because of the scarcity of parking. He indicated that allowing food trucks at Bartlett’s Landing also might be problematic for the same reason.
That would leave the Northeast Harbor Marina, where three potential vending spots have been identified. Food trucks could be operating there as soon as next summer.
Voters at town meeting approved an $8.6 million municipal budget for next fiscal year and a $3.6 million budget for Mount Desert Elementary School.
The school budget is $20,000 less than the school committee approved earlier this spring because health insurance costs will be lower than expected. The original budget factored in a 10 percent increase in insurance rates. But the actual rate increase, announced by Anthem Blue Cross last month, will be only 5 percent.
Overall, the budgets will raise the property tax rate from $6.78 to $7.13 per $1,000 of valuation.
Town meeting voters authorized the town to issue up to $715,050 in bonds for six infrastructure projects. Voters also approved a number of amendments to the land use zoning ordinance, including one that allows up to six chickens to be kept in the village commercial and shoreland zoning districts.
In secret-ballot voting on Monday, Martha Dudman won reelection to a three-year term on the board of selectmen with 126 votes. She ran unopposed.
Carolyn Pryor was reelected to a three-year term on the Mount Desert school committee with 134 votes. Teresa King-Leclair was elected to a one-year term with 129 votes. No other candidates filed to run for the school committee, but former committee member Heather Jones was elected to a three-year term with 24 write-in votes. She had said that she would serve if elected.
No candidates filed for election to one of Mount Desert’s seats on the Mount Desert Island High School board of trustees. Incumbent Chuck Bucklin received 11 write-in votes, but he has declined to serve
Town Clerk Joelle Nolan said that, according to the town charter, the board of selectmen may appoint someone to fill the seat or leave it open until the next municipal election.
For more Town Meeting photos, click here.