Town officials split on budget

BAR HARBOR — The Town Council changed its position on funding for the Jesup library and the harbormaster’s boat at its annual budget reconciliation meeting with the Warrant Committee Tuesday. Differences remain between the two groups on parking meters and a hike in town funding for the YMCA.

Councilors voted 5-1 to increase funding for the Jesup to $75,000 for the fiscal year beginning in July, to the level recommended by the Warrant Committee. Councilors Clark Stivers, Matt Hochman, Gary Friedmann, Peter St. Germain and Burt Barker supported the move, and Paul Paradis was opposed. Councilor Anne Greenlee was absent.

The council tentatively budgeted the full amount in December but reduced their recommendation in late January when another large request, this time from the YMCA, was received.

The Warrant Committee also recommended granting the full increase requested by the YMCA, to a total contribution of $100,000 in fiscal year 2018. But the council stayed with their recommendation to increase the appropriation by $25,000 rather than the full $52,000 requested.

The two bodies also split on a proposed bond issue for downtown parking meters, to be installed in the spring of 2018 if the measure passes. The town’s Parking Solutions Task Force has been at work on a plan for use of the meters and other parking rules. If the bond question passes, the rest of the plan details would come to the council for adoption.

Many residents are uncomfortable with the idea of parking meters, Warrant Committee member Seth Libby said, both because of aesthetic concerns and because they would “change the relationship between citizens and the town.” He said there have not been enough opportunities for public input on the plan, and many details are unclear. “Somebody has done a bad job of communicating the plan,” he said.

Task force member Erin Early Ward, also a Warrant Committee member, said the group’s work is a continuation of many years of public consideration of the issue. “For almost 30 years, we’ve been looking at the need to change parking behavior,” she said. Concerns that parking meters do not belong in “a quaint fishing village,” she said, should be balanced against potential revenue from meters that could support projects making the town more attractive, such as Cottage Street improvements, public transportation or satellite parking.

She said the task force is not currently recommending a parking garage anywhere in town.

Friedmann and Barker defended the task force’s work to date. “We’re worried about finding enough people to serve on task forces and committees,” Barker said, “and it’s partly because when they do, they keep getting shut down and shot down.”

Councilors also voted 5-1 to increase funding for future replacement or repair of the harbormaster’s boat to match the Warrant Committee recommendation. The $15,000 increase is to come from the cruise ship fund, so it has no tax impact. Paradis was the dissenting vote.

Warrant Committee members also were concerned that the 14 other cooperating nonprofit agencies receiving support from the town have received no increase in support, despite rising costs for services they provide to residents. The committee recommended a five percent increase for each group, for a total budget increase of just under $2,000.

Under a Town Council policy on cooperating agencies, no agency is to be funded for a larger amount than the prior year’s appropriation. A vote to set aside the policy in order to consider the increase request failed 3-3. Barker, Stivers and Friedmann were in favor, and Paradis, Hochman and St. Germain were opposed.

The policy does not preclude any of the agencies making a separate request on the floor of town meeting, Hochman said.

The Warrant Committee set additional meetings to take up a revised version of one of the land use ordinance (LUO) amendments on the June ballot. Councilors voted Tuesday to correct an error in Article 2, dealing with parking lots. According to the town attorney, the correction was a nonsubstantive change. Nevertheless, the Planning Board is set to weigh in on the change at their meeting next week, after which the Warrant Committee’s General Government Subcommittee and full Warrant Committee will meet and vote on the revised article.

All budget, zoning change and similar items will be voted on at town meeting in June.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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