Bridgton voters face big-ticket items

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

There’ll be several big-ticket items for Bridgton voters to decide at Town Meeting, set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 15 at Town Hall. Residents will be asked to voice their comments at a public hearing on the Town Meeting Warrant on Tuesday, May 10, at 6 p.m. in the downstairs meeting room at the Bridgton Municipal Complex.

One asks if voters want to spend $190,000 to buy the redemption center building on Nulty Street and the parking lot across the street. The money would come from the town’s surplus account.

Another asks if voters want to spend another $150,000 from surplus to make over those properties, owned by Andrew and Lisa Clark, as a Welcome Center with public bathrooms.

Within the budget itself, voters will be asked if they want to hire a full-time fire chief, which would require an additional $40,000 over the current part-time fire chief. There’s also around $60,000 in the budget for a new full-time police officer.

Voters will also face a money item when they go to the polls on Tuesday, June 14, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Along with referendums on revisions to the site plan, shoreland and tower ordinances, voters will be asked to decide a citizen’s petition seeking $10,000 to cover increased expenses at the Bridgton Food Pantry. A second citizen’s petition, seeking $10,000 for Community H.E.L.P., has been withdrawn by the nonprofit clothing and furnishings store on Nulty Street.

In terms of far-reaching economic importance, however, nothing else comes close to the first question on the June 14 secret ballot referendum — revisions to the sewer ordinance — designed to free up existing unused sewer capacity by switching from a flow-based user fee system to an equivalent-user fee system. Selectmen consider the revisions, an earlier version of which was rejected by voters last November, so important, in fact, that they are paying a public relations firm up to $10,000 to conduct a door-to-door canvassing and educational campaign.

Welcome Center

At Tuesday’s Selectmen meeting, the board voted 4-1, with Bernie King opposed, to recommend approval of the purchase of the redemption center and parking lot. The cost for the properties is $150,000, and another $35,000 is included to pay for repaving the parking area, which is currently in poor condition.

Selectman Bob McHatton said the parking lot should be extended to the post office in order to ensure there is enough room for the tour buses that the town plans to entice to make stopovers in the downtown.

Marita Wiser, however, asked if she could continue using the town-owned land next to the post office to grow a community garden, even though the Gilroy Trust is no longer involved in the project. The board agreed that if the vote to purchase the land passes, the paving would not take place until after the fall harvest.

The board agreed to allow Town Manager Bob Peabody to sign the purchase and sales agreement with the Clarks, in order to start work on inspections, an engineering survey and an environmental site assessment satisfying the Department of Environmental Protection that no harm would come to the nearby Stevens Brook. If all conditions cannot be satisfied between the town and the Clarks, the article would simply be passed over at the Town Meeting. The deal calls for a closing date of Sept. 15.

Food Pantry funding

Food Pantry Director Penny Robbins told the board “the numbers have increased dramatically” at the Bridgton Food Pantry, held weekly at the Methodist Church on Main Street. The number of families has jumped from 35 last year to 80 families this year, which translates to 170 people per week served. She said while the pantry appreciates the $1,500 in Community Development Block Grant funding the town has provided for this year, the amount fell short of what they requested and just isn’t enough. The pantry relies on private donations and support from several businesses, she said.

McHatton wanted to know why Robbins didn’t come to the board earlier, during budget deliberations, instead of choosing a citizen’s petition. She said, “We were a little disappointed that we didn’t get the money we asked for this year,” and when word got out to George Bradt, he helped pantry volunteers put together the petition, which garnered 242 accepted signatures.

Selectman Chairman King pointed out that the impact to taxpayers, based on a $100,000 home, would be a $1 increase in taxes.

Resident Bob Casimiro, who helps operate a local trust, said he was “strongly opposed to using local tax dollars to support the food pantry.” He said his trust has donated $8,000 to the pantry over the past three years, but would no longer support it if the referendum question passes.

Hoyt said the board was obligated to put the question before voters, since it was found to be a valid petition. The only other option that board has is to hold a special election to decide the matter, which would require an additional cost to the town.

Robbins said the pantry can only be used by Bridgton residents, but there are no income restrictions. Each family gets between 40 and 50 pounds of food a week, sometimes 75 pounds when a government staples box goes out with the regular food the pantry supplies.

Bradt said the town funded the food pantry for years, but for some reason funding ceased after former Director Debbie Davenport left.

The vote to move the question along was 4-1, with Selectman Greg Watkins opposed.

PR Firm

Greg Lane from Next Generation Strategies briefed the board on what his public relations firm plans to do between now and June 14 to educate voters on the need for passage of revisions to the town’s sewer ordinance. He said his firm will go door-to-door in some of the town’s more densely-populated areas to distribute literature and answer any questions or concerns residents may have about the changes.

The firm will also use direct mail and “leave-behind” doorknob literature when residents are not at home. He said 30% of people would read a flyer left on a doorknob, as opposed to 3% that would read a mailed flyer. Open houses will be held, and Lake Region Television will be used for one-on-one interviews and forums addressing the major changes in the ordinance.

Lane said it’s important to provide “an easy-to-understand, short narrative” that residents can peruse in 30 seconds, rather than bombarding them with information. Of the 5,200 residents in Bridgton, he said the target audience would be the 1,400 mostly older residents that actually take an active interest in town affairs.

He also encouraged stakeholders and others to write letters to the editor in The Bridgton News. “The newspaper is a very effective tool in this area,” he said.

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