News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, March 9, 2023
Deer Isle voters approve all budget items
Budget up nearly 18%, houseboat restrictions fail by wide margin

All in favor

Voters at the 2023 Deer Isle Town Meeting raise cards to vote in favor of an article to spend $22,500 for assessing and mapping.

Photo by Jack Beaudoin Order prints of selected PBP photos.

Voters and attendees at the 2023 Deer Isle annual Town Meeting on March 6 didn’t flinch at a 17.76 percent spending increase approving all budget warrant items at the afternoon meeting as well as all third-party requests on the morning ballot.

As a result, municipal spending will grow to $2,274,218 in the next year, up from $1,931,151 in 2022. Those numbers do not include funding for CSD 13 schools, which makes up about two-thirds of the town’s annual budget. The school budget is presented and passed later in the spring.

Not all of the spending growth comes from property and excise taxes. Just over $210,000 will be drawn down from surplus, while federal grants will supply anther $250,000. State grants and reserve funds will also cushion the blow for taxpayers.

“It’s a very tight budget and I hope we raised enough,” said Town Manager Jim Fisher following the 2.5-hour meeting. “The school board budget will make this pale in comparison.”

Among the notable spending items: $40,000 set aside for a new firetruck, $122,000 for a new public works plow truck, $200,000 for replacement of “storm water infrastructure” (which will be entirely funded by a federal grant), $440,000 to maintain the Transfer Station, and $70,000 for the new comprehensive plan.

In the morning vote, First Selectman Ronald Eaton easily won reelection, as did Tax Collector Judy Dunham and Town Clerk Heather Cormier. Chelsea Torrey and Darian Gove received overwhelming support for their CSD 13 races. All were unopposed.

Speeding along

Moderator Loring Kydd commended the townspeople present for taking the time to “participate in democracy in its purest form.” When some of the larger ticket items passed without debate Kydd added, “Amazing! Some of these expensive appropriations pass like they were nothing, only to spend a half-hour debating a $400 expense.”

The only substantive discussion among the first 60 items focused on the transfer station and the future of the ash pile. Fisher said the amount of lead detected in the pile excluded it from state landfills, meaning that it would have to be sent out of state—where the only guarantee about pricing was that it would be much more expensive.

“We don’t really know how much it’s going to cost,” agreed Selectman Joe Brown. “We’re still negotiating with the state to about how much has to be removed….If it’s a lot, it could cost more than a million dollars.”

After a blitz of questions about past practices and controls over commercial use and construction debris, resident Desiree Leadbetter moved an amendment requiring the select board to put a plan in place by next year’s annual meeting that would limit such uses. Both the amendment and the warrant article passed.

Ending in controversy

The quick dispatching of articles ended with the last two on the warrant: one a proposed ordinance that would regulate the use of houseboats in town waters, and the other an article directing the town to take over the Mt. Warren Cemetery. The proposed houseboat ordinance failed by a margin of about 5-1, garnering only about 15 supporting votes (see related story) after nearly 45 minutes of vigorous debate. Supporters argued that the ordinance would give the town much needed tools to prevent people from avoiding property taxes, polluting clam flats and offering short-term rentals in a fleet of “boxes on rafts.” Opponents felt the language in the ordinance was too broad and would preclude summer visitors and cruisers from anchoring in town waters.

After some discussion, attendees also refused to take over the cemetery from its now-disbanded association. Speakers who opposed the move cited the expense of maintenance and uncertainty around how the town would sell new plots.

“I was surprised by that last vote,” Fisher said, noting that state law requires towns to maintain the graves of veterans. “Ultimately, we’ll have to do something. If we don’t maintain it, people are going to show up next summer and ask us why we aren’t taking care of it.”