News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, August 9, 2018
Town presses for PERC funds, talks of expanding pier parking

by Rich Hewitt

The town continues to press the Municipal Review Committee for the release of the equity funds due to Stonington following the dissolution of the agreement with the Penobscot Energy Recovery Corp. in April.

As charter members in MRC, the town of Stonington, and 86 other towns in Maine, own equity in the company that has accrued over the years. PERC and the MRC split and the charter towns such as Stonington that remained with PERC were to receive their full share of the equity funds when the agreement ended in April. Distribution of the funds, however, was delayed until after an audit could be completed.

According to Town Manager Kathleen Billings, the MRC board had been scheduled to review the audit at its July 25 regular meeting, but did not approve the audit at that time. At their regular meeting on Monday, August 6, selectmen speculated that the delay might indicate that there were problems with the audit, but Greg Lounder, the MRC executive director, indicated that it stems from the fact that the audit covers a longer period of time than normal.

“Where the audit covers five quarters, our auditor couldn’t complete it by July 25,” Lounder said in a July 31 email to Billings, “but it has been promised in prelim form by Aug. 1. The board will have to have a special meeting in August to review it with the auditors and consider acceptance of the audit as complete. The big check run will follow by the end of the month.”

The selectmen have been skeptical of the MRC-PERC breakup process right along, and again on Monday were irked at the delay. Selectman John Robbins questioned whether the town should involve the town attorney in an effort to speed up the payment process.

“Tell him ‘it’s our money, we want it now!’” he said.

While the other selectmen seemed interested in that approach, they did not act to authorize the legal action. Billings said she was willing to wait until the August meeting to see what the audit showed.

The town expects to receive about $171,000 in the equity payment, down from the $220,000 predicted last year. Selectman Evelyn Duncan noted that it was important for the town to receive that payment as soon as possible in order to help cover the cost of improvements at the transfer station.

“We appropriated money at town meeting,” she said. “We anticipated taking money from surplus and putting it back from the MRC [equity payment].”

Billings reported that work on the transfer station is nearly completed, with just a few minor details to be dealt with.

Deer Isle Granite Museum

Selectmen opted to decline an offer to receive the downtown Deer Isle Granite Museum as a gift. Owners Frank and Deeny Weil had proposed gifting the museum to the town, but the selectmen had some concerns about taking on another building. Those concerns, which were shared by members of the Economic Development Committee’s downtown group, included the fact that the museum occupies only one third of the building, so the town would have only a one-third say in what happens to it. The building, like others along Main Street, is in the flood plain and susceptible to rising sea levels as a result of climate change. Billings added her concern that the town would have to pay someone to staff the museum and it would add another budget line that would have to be funded.

While the selectmen praised the museum, they suggested that the town’s historical society might be a better fit to take over and run the museum.

Fish pier parking

The idea of increasing parking on the commercial fish pier took another step forward Monday as the selectmen sent a preliminary site sketch of a possible parking expansion to the Harbor Committee for review. The sketch, developed by engineer Andrew McCullough, shows how an area between the fish pier and an existing paved boat ramp could be filled in to create additional parking. The project could add as many as nine parking spaces to the pier, according to Robbins.

Selectmen expressed some surprise at the size of the expansion. “That’s a big expansion,” said Donna Brewer.

The sketch is preliminary and does not include a cost estimate. That would be one of the next steps if the harbor committee decides that it wants to move forward with the project.

“They want to find out the numbers to see what it will cost,” Robbins said.

Billings said McCullough could develop a bid package that could be put out to contractors. She added that there might be grant funding available for that kind of a project.

The town expects to receive about $171,000 in the equity payment, down from the $220,000 predicted last year.