Bridgton voters eliminate BEDC funding

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

The mood was decidedly against spending on any extras at this year’s Bridgton annual town meeting. It began with repeated requests for various reductions by taxpayer William Barnes, all of which were dismissed by the majority of the 80 or so residents present.

However, one request — to cut a $21,500 request for funding support by the Bridgton Economic Development Corporation — did receive voter approval. And another request — to cut $25,000 for the Perley Mills Project from Moose Pond Trust Fund appropriations  — only narrowly escaped the axe.

At the last Bridgton Selectmen meeting, BEDC Board member Mark Lopez sought clarity on the elimination of BEDC funding. He wondered whether some of the cut could be applied elsewhere in the area of planning, since the cut was made from a $92,568 budget for “the cost of the Planning and Economic Development Director and Related Programming.”

But the board wasn’t in agreement. Selectmen reaffirmed that the $21,500 cut was intended to be applied to the BEDC, and not to the town’s office of Planning and Economic Development.

“I think that was pretty clear from the discussion on the floor,” Selectman Paul Hoyt told Lopez, who did not dispute his statement.

The BEDC cut came two hours into the meeting and near its end. The motion was made by former Selectman Art Triglione, and was quickly seconded from the floor. Told by Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz that $21,500 of the $92,568 was earmarked for the BEDC as a result of a memorandum of understanding, Triglione called for the $21,500 spending reduction.

“We allocated $23,000 to the corporation last year, and at that time, they indicated they needed it to jump-start their projects,” Triglione said, in explaining his motion. “They said, if I recall, that if you give us this, we won’t ask for more.”

Triglione then said, “I haven’t seen much results of the $23,000 allocation from last year.”

No one from the BEDC spoke at the Town Meeting to explain the reasoning behind their request for second-year funding.

Moderator Glen Niemy then called for a vote, and the cut passed easily by a voice vote.

A hand-count was necessary, however, to determine whether voters would refuse to contribute $25,000 from the Moose Pond Trust Fund to support the town of Denmark’s $1.4 million purchase of 1,600 acres of contiguous forestland straddling the towns of Denmark, Bridgton and Sebago. Norm Nicholson, board member of the Loon Echo Land Trust, said the Perley Mills Community Forest project contains 540 acres of land in Bridgton lying over the Willett Brook aquifer, the source of drinking water for wells in Bridgton.

The land, which also consists of 920 acres in Denmark and 130 acres in Sebago, is of high recreational value as well, Nicholson said. “It’s used for hunting, trapping, fishing, it has three miles of the Narrow Gauge Trail — it’s very, very important recreationally. And it will not affect your tax rate at all.”

Resident Greg Watkins, the vice-chairman of the Comprehensive Plan Committee, made the motion to cut $25,000 from this year’s $47,310 in Moose Pond Trust Fund appropriations. The total also included $5,000 for the BRAG Recreation Complex, $5,000 to Pondicherry Park and $12,310 for general park maintenance.

By law, the town cannot remove more than 4% from the fund in any given year, so that it will continue to grow. Currently there is around $1.2 million in the fund.

Selectmen decided on which areas to spend this year’s allocation in advance of town meeting.

Watkins said he was against contributing to the forestland purchase because “we’re not gaining anything that’s not already going to be done,” whether Bridgton kicks in any money or not. Bridgton residents would still have access to the public land for recreation, he said.

Nicholson said LELT, which is assisting the town of Denmark with the purchase, has already raised around $1 million of the $1.4 million purchase price. Denmark and Sebago voters each agreed to appropriate $25,000 at their town meetings on June 1.

Berkowitz said funds spent from the Moose Pond Trust Fund do not come from tax dollars, so the tax rate would not be impacted by the appropriation.

But Lopez argued that point, saying that under the trust fund rules, the town could choose to increase support for park maintenance that would otherwise need to come from property taxpayers.

Resident Judy Pelletier, noting that no funding was being earmarked this year from the fund to the Easy Riders Snowmobile Club, said the $25,000 would be better spent on the club, which supports an important recreational resource in town.

But, Selectman Paul Hoyt said, the snowmobile club had not requested any money this year; the $21,124 they were given last year was for a specific project that is now completed, he said. Hoyt added that he wished residents had come forward with their concerns about use of the trust fund money during the budget process. If voters cut $25,000 from the fund, he said, the money would simply go back into the fund and could not be used for anything else.

When Niemy called for a vote on the motion to cut the $25,000, the voice vote was too close to call. A hand-count resulted in 16 residents in favor of the cut, with many more than that against the cut.

 

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