Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, August 23, 2018
Deer Isle town manager talks future, targeted improvements
by Monique Labbe
In what he hopes will become a more frequent conversation, Deer Isle Town Manager Jim Fisher presented on various aspects of the town’s present and future during a standing room only forum at Chase Emerson Memorial Library on August 15.
Fisher began by saying that the population in Deer Isle is aging, with the highest concentration of people being age 55-65. The second is age 66-74.
Because the town consists of many retired or semiretired individuals, the number of people contributing to the labor force is declining.
“We don’t have a lot of unemployment on the island,” said Fisher. “What we have is a high number of people who are either retired, not looking for work, or not of working age [as students or children].”
Fisher added that while the town has a high number of fishermen and lobstermen, the two biggest employment sectors are education and health care.
Another issue Fisher discussed is housing, noting that affordable housing is currently scarce on the island. A lack of affordable housing means that people live off the island and commute to and from work every day.
Fisher reported that 54 percent of the houses in Deer Isle are “abandoned” during the off season, owned by summer or seasonal residents. Only about 33 percent of the housing stock is occupied year round, with 12 percent left for rental properties.
“Those numbers could be flawed, but it gives you an idea,” said Fisher.
Fisher added that there is currently a group of individuals working on finding ways to solve, or at least begin to solve, the workforce housing shortage.
Resident Mike Wood, who is part of that process, reported that there are committees working on figuring out need, financing, and how to go about creating affordable housing. There is currently a survey at the Deer Isle Town Office and the 44 North Coffee locations.
Broadband was another topic discussed. Fisher said that there is a committee that has formed and is in the process of determining the needs of the people in town, so that they can then move forward with proposals to various companies. One person in the audience asked why this is not something the town can do in coordination with Stonington, which has started the process of bringing broadband into town. Fisher said Stonington started the process some time ago, and that they have already done most of the procedural things, such as collecting data, that Deer Isle still needs to do.
Other topics of discussion included infrastructure issues such as roads, environmental issues such as an increasing flood zone along much of Deer Isle’s coastal property, and a conversation about the “positive aspects” of the town, which included its scenery, unique natural resources and a “very deep sense of community.”
“We’re all in the boat together,” said Wood.