Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, May 2, 2019
Isle au Haut town meeting a smooth affair
by Anne Berleant
Citizens approved warrant articles totaling $468,522 in municipal expenditures and $259,752 for education, and elected a slate of town officials from the floor, at town meeting April 29 at Revere Memorial Hall.
“I really thought it went smoothly,” First Selectman Peggi Stevens said. “I thought everyone did their homework.”
The school budget is down 6.5 percent overall, Superintendent Chris Elkington said, with taxation for education down 3.7 percent.
“The bottom line is the education part of taxes is down,” he told the 40-odd people in attendance, of which 27 were legal voters.
Capital improvements at the school were set at $30,000, a $25,000 increase. “We’re finding a lot of issues,” Luther Smith said, including lead in the exterior paint, rot, dampness and a lack of insulation.
The kindergarten through eighth grade school has only a handful of elementary students and no high school students are projected for 2019-20.
Teacher Rita McWilliams, stepping down at the end of this year, received appreciation and applause. In turn, she thanked Elkington “for guidance and support. He’s always there for us, and cares about education on the island.”
The school board announced the hire of Marcela Carroll as incoming teacher, moving here with her husband, who will work for the Isle au Haut Electric Power Company, and their child.
Articles funding road work, plowing, waste disposal, the maintenance of town buildings, the fire department and other municipal business passed with minor discussion, as did the $50,000 request for the Isle au Haut Boat Company. Articles seeking to create and fund a broadband committee and to raise zero dollars for the light house renovation project took longer.
Speaking in favor of raising funds for broadband—a popular item at town meetings on the mainland and Blue Hill Peninsula this year—broadband committee member Sue Foelix said an island survey showed “the vast majority of folks feel we need to have it for economic development, [for] bringing in young families.”
Gift shop operator Kendra Chubbuck drew a stark picture: “As a business owner, it takes me 45 minutes to upload a photo,” she said, while credit card payments often had to be processed off-line. If any issues arose in syncing the transaction online, the money from the sale could be lost.
Half of Isle au Haut’s residences fall below minimum internet service, as defined by the state, Foelix said. Further complicating the issue is that Maine State Library Network supplies a fast connection to the school and library. The town doesn’t qualify for grants because its “key structures” are already served, Foelix explained, noting that nearby residences also benefit from the service.
She and fellow committee member Charlie Hopkins requested $20,000 to place in the new account. Citizens fell on both sides of the issue, landing on the side of caution.
“We’re so fortunate to be funded by MSLN,” Librarian Brenda Clark said. “So for the town to put some money into it—I think we have to look at the broader picture.”