Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, March 7, 2013
Stonington voters set agenda for coming year, talk through issues
by Alice Wilkinson
The approximately 51 people who attended the March 4 Stonington Town Meeting were ready to spend, and spend they did. When all was said and done, in an hour and a half, voters approved expenditures totaling $1,401,959 with little discussion.
Moderator Skip Greenlaw announced the results of the election.
Donna Brewer was re-elected as selectman with 51 votes.
Andrew Vaughn (50 votes), Mark Cormier (48 votes) and Holly Eaton (51 votes) were elected to the school board.
Three write-in candidates for the Stonington Sanitary District Board, with one vote each, declined the position. They are Barrett Gray, Morgan Eaton and Elizabeth Estey. Margaret Collins, also a write-in with one vote, had not been reached by press-time.
Jeanine Buckminster was elected as the at-large representative for the SSD Board.
The big-ticket items on the budget, such as $228,480 for the operation of the Transfer Station and $238,350 for town roads, passed with no questions.
There were no questions about Article 9—“To see if the Town will authorize the Selectmen to act as the Trustees for the Stonington Water Company and vote the stock held by the Town to keep the Stonington Water Company operating and transact other business at any meeting of the stockholder of the Stonington Water Company”—despite that the water company has been losing unaccounted-for quantities of water.
The first article to generate discussion was article 18, “To see what sum of money the Town will vote to raise and appropriate for wages and expenses for animal control.” The selectmen’s recommendation of $10,250 was queried by Trish Brierly, who asked if it was for wages. Town Manager Kathleen Billings-Pezaris said it was, and answered “No” to the next question, “Do we have a replacement?”
Selectman Evelyn Duncan added that anyone interested in the job should come down and apply.
Robert Ray asked if Deer Isle put in the same amount, and Billings-Pezaris said she thought it was a little lower. In fact, in this year’s warrant, Deer Isle allocated $5,200 for animal control.
The $68,640 for law enforcement for three days elicited a question about whether those were three full days. Billings-Pezaris said they were, although the town does not know which days they will be ahead of time, only that Stonington is guaranteed one Friday or one Saturday night each week.
A $13,500 request from the Shellfish Conservation Committee passed without a murmur, but the next article, Article 29, for $5,000 for economic development required some explanation.
“What is that $5,000 for?” asked Deb Mortenson. Billings-Pezaris had a list of answers: that takes care of having legislative committees come down; breakfast with the school-to-job workforce; mailings, especially for the survey on low to moderate income for CDBG funds.
Duke Shepherd said, “I thought that position [economic development director] had been eliminated.” Billings-Pezaris said it had, and the amount requested for economic development reflected that. The measure passed, but not unanimously.
Article 46, “To see what sum of money the Town will vote to raise for the Bayview St. & Seawall Reserve,” drew a question from Ray. He wanted to know if it was for parking for the restaurant [The Factory Tavern].
Board Chairman George Stevens said, “No, it’s for the seawall.”
Ray then asked, “Is this for maintaining the [Colwell] ramp?”
“Nothing to do with the ramp,” answered Stevens.
Article 46 passed.
Article 50, “To see what sum of money the town will vote to raise and appropriate for operation and improvements to the Colwell Ramp property” drew more questions. The $5,000 the selectmen recommended is matched by Isle au Haut, joint owners and managers of the ramp.
Ray wanted to know if the lot is privately owned. It is not. Then he asked if anyone could park there. Stevens answered, “For 45 minutes. After that, you’re gone. You go to Charlie’s [Charlie Peabody’s garage] to get your car back.”
Gay Atkinson, who is a member of the Colwell Ramp Committee, explained that the parking lot “is not for restaurant use, not for someone going camping for two weeks—it’s for loading and unloading.”
The next article, for $5,400, needed some explaining. “To see what sum of money the Town will vote to raise and appropriate for Sand Beach lease rental property.”
“I was under the impression that the use of the beach was allowed by the family in exchange for reduced taxes,” Brierly said. Billings-Pezaris explained that the town signs a lease and that the $5,400 is in lieu of taxes—essentially it’s a swap, she explained later. The town pays the lease then that money is returned as taxes.
The $1,500 for insurance for Sand Beach in the next article is paid by the town.
A mistake in the amount requested in article 67, “To see what sum of money the Town will vote to raise and appropriated for Child and Family Opportunities (Head Start)” drew a question from Linda Shepherd of Head Start: “The requested article was for $2,000. What happened?”
Billings-Pezaris checked and said she was right, that they had just repeated last year’s request. The amount is based on the number of children in the program.
Jen Bubar asked what would become of the building formerly used by Head Start, to which Shepherd replied, “I’m not sure. Maybe the [federal] government will take it back.”
The amount requested was amended and the article passed for $2,000.
The $750 requested for the Down East YMCA drew the question, “What’s it for.” Both Billings-Pezaris and Peter Farragher, CEO of the Y, responded.
Billings-Pezaris said because Stonington is a contributing community, community residents use the Y at reduced rates. Farragher added that on Saturdays and Sundays the Y is open from 1 to 4 p.m. and is free for everyone in the community. The pool and gym are both available then.
Pat Gross, director of Island Community Center, said someone from the Y comes down to the Island and gives swimming lessons for four weeks.
When it came time for Article 71—“To see if the Town will vote to accept funds from the state of Maine for the following”—the topic of revenue sharing and the expected $30,000 due back to the town was discussed briefly. Also of concern is the $12,000 the town receives as a snow contract, payment for plowing state roads 15 and 15 A within the town borders.
“Are we getting revenue sharing?” someone asked.
“We currently are…they had hearings. I’m not sure exactly what will happen. This will have an effect—for Stonington, [totaling everything including excise taxes] this could be as much as $150,000….If what LePage wants goes through, it’s a shift to the taxpayers,” Billings-Pezaris replied.
Shepherd said he heard the state wanted to give the responsibility for plowing to the town. Billings-Pezaris wasn’t entirely confident: “If they don’t get one thing…they’re just going to try another tack…”
Greenlaw ended the meeting by saying, “Kathleen deserves a large round of applause. Equally so do the selectmen, who put in far more time than you probably think. And the clerks, Roger [Stone], other town employees.” They got a round of applause, but the applause wasn’t over yet.
Ray said, “I’d like to applaud you [Greenlaw] for being moderator year after year…you do a really sweet job.” And there was more applause.
Greenlaw said, “You’ve been a wonderful town meeting. It speaks to how well Kathleen and the selectmen manage the town. You can have confidence in what they do.” The meeting was adjourned at 4:30 p.m.