Casco voters support $2.5 million bond

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO – Residents of Casco will see construction equipment descend upon several roads, and they will see a noticeable increase in their annual tax bill.

The majority of voters at Casco Town Meeting on June 15 approved a $2.5 million bond that will fund infrastructure improvements such as the replacement of the Pleasant Lake-Parker Pond Dam and also major renovations on five roads.

With the bond money, the roads that will be improved are: Edwards Road — which leads to the public beach on Crescent Lake, and Johnson Hill, Cooks Mills, Tenney Hill and Point Sebago roads. The first two roads on the list will receive extensive repairs while the other three will have the worst sections repaired. The repairs entail grinding the asphalt on portions, re-ditching the culverts, repaving and striping.

According to Casco Town Manager Dave Morton, if the infrastructure bond had not passed it would have taken about eight years to wrap up construction on those roads.

The passage of the bond — along with the approval of a land purchase for $440,000 — will increase the tax rate. The approved bonds will impact the tax rate with an increase of 48 cents or $72 per $150,000 valuation. Residents receive their tax bills bi-annually in the summer and in the autumn. The terms of the bond repayments will be 10 years. The town previously did not have any debt.

Traditionally, Casco citizens are very involved in discussions during their Town Meeting. Typically, the turnout is good and the meeting lasts between two and three hours.

Almost 100 people participated in this year’s Town Meeting, which lasted three hours. Before the first of three bond-related Warrant Articles got to the floor, someone suggested that all three bonds be open to discussion so that people can completely understand what each bond entailed.

Resident Eric Dibner introduced the motion to talk about the proposed bonds.

“The merit of Warrant Articles 11, 12 and 13 deserve a discussion,” Dibner said.

After the discussion and when the vote was called, the moderator decided the vote was “too close to call.” The headcount for the second vote was 60-36, and the largest of the three bonds passed.

Later, some Warrant Articles that had close votes had a head count that was about 10 people fewer, indicating some people might have left the building after the bond vote.

During the discussion, there was a level of confusion among residents — a sentiment expressed by Stan Buchanan.

“My biggest problem is that the three articles are doing almost the same thing. I am on the Finance Committee for the school board. If we came out and gave the public something like this,” they would wring our necks, he said.

“There are a lot of people who are totally confused, and it’s like this was written up by a Boston lawyer,” Buchanan said.

One common inquiry of Casco residents was how the roads were chosen for construction.

“Everyone’s worse road is the one they live on and drive over,” Morton said.

“What we look at is where we spend the most money. Right now, the greatest portion of maintenance money (goes toward) Johnson Hill and Edwards Road,” Morton said. “We had Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) engineers ride with us and they agreed with us.”

Most of the residents who took a turn at the microphone had questions rather than comments.

One woman, Susan Pollen, said as a fiscal conservative, she would prefer to keep the tax rate low. But the need to repair roads was pressing, making the $1.3 million bond was “a good compromise,” she said.

It was agreed that the town was between a rock and a hard place regarding the replacement of the failing Pleasant Lake Dam, which is a cost shared equally with the Town of Otisfield.

“As far as the dam, I know we have got to fix it. I don’t know why the state doesn’t kick in. It shouldn’t be towns of Casco and Otisfield,” resident Phil Shane said.

Holly Hancock, chairman of the Casco Board of Selectmen, responded.

“The rules of DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) said the owners of the dam are responsible for it. It is $1,000 a day (in fines) if we don’t fix it. So, in fact, they are not helping us,” Hancock said.

The dam replacement was included in the approval of the $2.5 million bond.

Other increases supported by the majority of residents included: more money in the mowing and cemetery care fund mostly to replace headstones and for professional tree removal, a part-time harbor master for $6,000, and $93,000 in stipends to help man the Casco Fire Station from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Chief Jason Moen was relieved by a deputy moderator so he could act in his role as chief.

“We are increasing that coverage to 24/7.

We have had a 100-call increase. With people at the station, it takes nine minutes to respond,” Moen said. “At night, we don’t have anyone on the duty and we rely on volunteers at their homes. That response time doubles or triples. And, if we don’t have anyone available, we have to call mutual aid.”

“The increase was $93,000 — that is the only increase. All other line items were kept flat,” Moen said.

Resident Nicholas Murray asked, “Based on your volume of calls, how many calls are during staff hours?

Moen said, “Forty-five percent of the calls are from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.”

Murray asked if the department had considered going to 18-hour station coverage.

“We did consider that. We broke it down. With those night calls, there was no set pattern. A two- to three-hour gap becomes difficult to staff,” Moen said.

Resident Rick Thorpe stepped to the microphone.

“I would say to one and all of us here tonight, it is quite reassuring to have the type of rescue service we have,” Thorpe said.

The immediate response to his comment was applause from residents.

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