Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, March 8, 2018
Voters approve salaries, OFIP contribution at town meeting
by Monique Labbe
The Deer Isle townspeople approved 70 warrant articles totaling $1,378,586, in just under three hours at the annual town meeting on March 5.
Assuming his role as moderator, Loring Kydd opened the meeting with a moment of silence, followed by the dedication of the town report to Albert Eaton and Bob Harris.
The fourth item on the warrant, to approve the salaries of the selectmen, was met with some dispute from the audience.
“I love my cousin [Selectman Ron Eaton], but I think the salaries are a little high,” said Julie Eaton.
At $6,000 a year, plus health insurance, the Deer Isle selectmen are the highest paid in the area. Comparatively, the selectmen in Stonington are paid $3,500 a year and do not receive health insurance benefits.
Another community member asked whether the roles of the selectmen will change now that a town manager has been hired to oversee the day-to-day operations of the town office.
“I don’t think our roles will change at all,” said Eaton. “We’re still in charge, we still make the decisions.”
Mike Wood, who lost a tight race for the third seat on the board of selectmen to Peter Perez earlier in the day, defended the selectmen. “I don’t think anyone realizes just what the selectmen do for the town,” he said. “I think it’s an insult to question a paltry sum of $6,000.” Kydd called the question, and voters approved the salaries.
Another article that sparked debate was the amount of money to be put toward health insurance premiums for eligible town employees. The amount, totaling $94,000, was up $21,000 from last year’s expenditures.
Eaton and fellow Selectman Twyla Weed said the overall cost of healthcare has gone up, and with the addition of a town manager on the payroll, the cost of health insurance to the town was up as well.
The employees currently receiving health benefits are the three selectmen, Cormier, Town Manager Jim Fisher, Road Commissioner Bert Schmidt and transfer station operator Lyle Showers.
A heated discussion came toward the end of the meeting, as article 68 asked voters to approve a $20,000 contribution to the Opiate Free Island Project. The town had approved the same contribution at last year’s town meeting.
“I’m here on behalf of a lot of people who couldn’t be here today,” said resident Rita Oliver. “I understand that this island has a problem with drugs, but it also has a problem with its schools. The schools are closing, and we’re trying to help drug addicts instead of our children.”
CSD 13 school board chairman Jane Osborne quickly pointed out that the schools are not closing, and that $10,000 of the money is alloted to prevention programs inside the schools so that the cycle of addiction does not continue.
“We simply opened up the discussion [of closing the schools],” said Osborne. “But the school board cannot make that decision without consulting with the community. It is a community decision.”
Several others spoke in support of the Opiate Free Island Project, particularly in relation to the various prevention programs that are available to the students and other family members.
“We need to look at the future,” said Liz Zentz. “Having this funding now will help OFIP be able to look for grants and other funds so that we don’t have to continue coming to the towns for money. We need to approach this as a community.” The article was approved following discussion.
Before closing the meeting, Kydd noted that he heard from several community members that a change in town meeting date and time would be beneficial. He asked the audience their thought on it, and the majority raised their hands in support.
Currently, Deer Isle and Stonington are the only two towns in the area that hold town meetings during weekday afternoons.
Earlier in the day, residents cast their votes to elect a selectman, treasurer/tax collector, town clerk, road commissioner and members of the CSD 13 school board. In the only contested race, Peter Perez beat out Wood, 209-197, for the three-year selectman’s seat.
Judy Dunham was elected treasurer/tax collector, Cormier as town clerk, Schmidt as road commissioner and Stephen York as the school board representative. Liz Smith, a write-in candidate for school board also was elected.