BAR HARBOR — Residents attending Tuesday’s annual town meeting overwhelmingly approved a $2.2-million bond issue for repairs and renovations to the municipal building and reinstated a $26,000 cut to the Conners Emerson School budget for music programs.
A total of $56,000 in proposed funding for creating a new deputy town manager position was eliminated by voters, while an attempt to pull $16,000 from the budget for water testing around cruise ships fell flat.
Approximately 130 residents began the meeting at 7 p.m., but by the evening’s end at 11 p.m., just 60 or 70 remained. Total budgets of $5.6 million for Conners Emerson and $12.7 million for municipal departments, including Hancock County and Mount Desert Island High School assessments, will translate to an approximate 1.1 percent rise in property taxes here during the next fiscal year.
Nearly the first hour of the meeting was spent debating the Conners Emerson budget after resident Brian Booher moved to amend the total amount by adding $26,000 to restore proposed cuts to the music program. Several residents spoke in favor of keeping the program as robust as possible, while warrant committee members, school board members and school principal Barb Neilly all argued that the middle school music theory classes that would be cut are not necessary for students and would be best replaced with science and social studies classes. No cuts to performance programs or music groups were ever intended, they said.
Resident Peter Calas pleaded with voters to remember that they were considering not just a program, but the individual who teaches it. That position would be cut by 40 percent by the reduction.
Calas was speaking of music teacher Joe Wainer, even though he did not mention him by name.
While attendees voted 72-56 to restore the funding, school superintendent Howard Colter explained that town meeting voters have no power over how the school administration and board decide to use the money.
“The board put tremendous amount of thought behind this…the board was unanimous in reaching this decision,” he said. “Supporting this amendment would approve money, but it does not mean it will automatically be spent.”
The $56,000 originally included in the municipal budget for hiring a deputy town manager for three-quarters of the fiscal year was originally conceived while town manager Dana Reed was still in office. With the search on for a new town manager, town councilors announced that they no longer supported creation of the position. However, they argued that the money should remain in the budget and be placed in the contingency account. This did not sit well with many of the voters.
Voter Tom Burton, who is currently running for election to the council, proposed removing the money from the budget. Several speakers supported him, including Judie Noonan, who said that residents had no guarantee that councilors wouldn’t use the money in the contingency account to hire a deputy town manager anyway. This and other comments prompted outgoing council chairman Ruth Eveland to comment on the lack of trust displayed by some residents.
Meeting attendees voted 57-54 to cut the assistant manager line item.
Another amendment to the budget, proposed by Jon Carter, would have removed $16,000 for water testing around cruise ships. Carter, a fisherman and active member of the harbor committee, explained that the testing was unnecessary in light of state and federal monitoring systems, but his motion was defeated by a vote of 60-28. The program is paid for with cruise ship revenue.
Bonding for the municipal building passed by nearly unanimous voice vote.
Town meeting voters passed by nearly unanimous vote a $242,000 bond issue to complete a downtown wayfinding sign program.