After contentious vote, Bridgton town meeting was quite amicable

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

The June 10 Town Meeting in Bridgton, coming one day after three highly-contentious referendum questions were decided, was strikingly amicable by comparison. Nearly 100 residents zipped through the 40 warrant articles in just over an hour with little debate on any one question.

Turnout for the June 9 referendum questions and election was one of the highest ever in a non-gubernatorial year, due to strong opinions on both sides of questions dealing with Town Hall funding, support for the Lakes Region Bus service, and an effort to stop changes to sewer system allocations. Voters supported funding for the Town Hall and the bus, and quashed the effort to halt sewer system changes. They also passed several ordinance amendments as drafted by the Planning Board.

Moderator Steve Collins announced that a recount requested by Selectman candidate Robert Murphy did not change the results of the four-way race for the two open seats. One of Bob McHatton’s votes was thrown out, but McHatton still won, by a vote of 362 to 361. Greg Watkins earned the most votes, with 476.

Appropriations for Capital Expenditures were amended from $729,395 to $709,395 after voters agreed to reduce the revaluation reserve from $50,000 to $30,000. Town Manager Bob Peabody explained that the town already has $150,000 set aside for the work, and only needs another $30,000 to meet the $180,000 price as bid by O’Donnell & Associates.

The next article drew some debate when Budget Committee member Bill Vincent called for a $9,000 decrease in spending for the Bridgton Library. He said that amount had originally been earmarked for the North Bridgton Library, but was transferred by selectmen to the Bridgton Library after the North Bridgton Library closed.

“They didn’t even ask for it,” said Vincent, who suggested the $9,000 should be returned to the general fund instead.

Bridgton Library Trustee Jim Cossey said, however, that the library’s original budget request had been $82,500. Even with the $9,000 from the North Bridgton Library, the $79,000 in this year’s budget was less than the library had hoped for, he said. Cossey noted that the Bridgton Library’s services are even more in demand now that the North Bridgton Library is closed.

Trustee Treasurer Stan Cohen said the Bridgton Library hasn’t seen an increase in its $70,000 funding level for four years, and “flat funding doesn’t get us to where we need to be.” Cohen also pointed out that the $9,000 was budgeted for the North Bridgton Library last year, so it would not add to this year’s tax rate.

Other library supporters were quick to chime in. Joan Cope said, “The library deserves every penny it can get” because it offers so many valuable informational resources to the public. Marita Wiser said the library has had to “make due” for many years, and it deserved the boost in funding.

Vincent’s amendment was defeated with a resounding “No!” that filled the Town Hall.

A lighter moment followed, when Jonathan Morrell moved to amend the library’s budget yet again, but this time upward, to its original $82,500 request. Collins told him the article’s funding, since it was an appropriation, could not be increased; it can only be decreased. “Nice try, though,” he said.

The $87,183 budgeted for Outside Agencies withstood a challenge by resident Art Triglione to have that amount cut by 10%. The money will be apportioned to 14 agencies that provide services to Bridgton, including $2,250 to Androscoggin Home Health Services, which resident Nancy Dunham said provided home and hospice care to 242 Bridgton residents last year. She said many in town aren’t aware that Androscoggin Home Care & Hospice maintains a satellite location to its Lewiston office behind Bridgton Hospital.

Laura Dembski also spoke on behalf of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services, which received $750 in funding. SAPARS serves Oxford County and the towns of Bridgton and Harrison.

Dembski said one exciting new initiative by SAPARS is the Androscoggin Children’s Advocacy Center, a place where children who have been sexually abused can be interviewed by a specially-trained forensic interviewer in a child-friendly environment.

Those who need information from the child, such as law enforcement, Department of Health & Human Services, prosecutors, can witness the interview via closed circuit television in another room, she said.

“It allows for one interview of the child, versus several from different providers,” said Dempski, thereby greatly reducing the trauma to the child. SAPARS is currently in the planning process of creating a Child Advocacy Center at the South Paris office.

Long-Term Debt appropriations of $88,590 drew some debate when resident Chuck Renneker asked what debts the town was incurring. Peabody said the town plans to lease-purchase two trucks for the Public Works Department, at 3.54% interest for seven years, and also plans to borrow for renovations to the Town Hall.

Voters agreed to use $50,000 of the $56,445 in interest revenue from the Moose Pond Trust Fund toward the Town Hall renovations. Peabody said that amount had already been approved at last year’s Town Meeting, when voters agreed to borrow up to $225,000 for Town Hall renovations, with the loans paid annually from the Moose Pond Trust Fund.

Resident Dave MacFarland said he thought the MPTF money was supposed to be used for recreational purposes only, under the terms of the trust. Peabody said Town Hall repairs qualify, since the building is being used for recreation programs. The balance of MPTF interest revenue will be used for parks ($1,445) and Pondicherry Park ($5,000).

Renneker was not satisfied with Peabody’s explanation. “Now it appears this fund (MPTF) is pretty much used for capital improvements,” Renneker said.

The only other reference to the controversy over the Town Hall spending came near the end of the meeting, when resident Lega Metcalf asked about an article authorizing selectmen to dispose of town-owned land that it deems to be surplus.

“Could the land that Town Hall is on be sold if this article passes?” Metcalf asked. Peabody said yes.

The article passed, but some loud voice votes of “No” could also be heard.

 

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