Citizen’s petition accepted, officials say it is flawed

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

A citizen petition seeking to change how Bridgton disposes of town-owned property will be on the June warrant, but officials pointed out Tuesday night, it is flawed.

If the petition were approved — Board of Selectmen Chairman Greg Watkins noted that on legal advice the petition be included on the warrant as written — it would force officials to include all tax-acquired property in the competitive bid process.

Ironically, selectmen came to terms with two property owners (Hio Ridge Road and Green Street) Tuesday night enabling them to pay back taxes, agree to make specific improvements as recommended by Code Enforcement Rob Baker and reclaim their homes. Working with property owners to reclaim tax-acquired real estate has been a long-standing practice in towns throughout the region.

Tom Smith, who help spearhead the petition drive, claimed the intent was mandate that the town publicly advertise that surplus property is available for sale and to notify abutters.

Smith added if town officials had followed this process in regards to the town-owned piece of land at the Saunders Mill site sold to developer Justin McIver of Main Eco Homes, a citizen petition would not have been needed.

The petition was accepted, having 241 valid signatures — two above the required number. The article reads, “All town-owned properties to be sold shall be sold by announced auction and shall be advertised in the Bridgton News, the town website and all social media platforms controlled by the town for a minimum of 30 days. The minimum sales price shall be no less than 70 percent of market value. Abutters shall be given written notice.”

Smith pointed out that the “70 percent” was included because petitioners felt the Saunders’ land sold to McIver was “substantially” below market value. The town accepted $20,000. Smith claims the town would have received a much higher figure if the general public knew the lot was for sale. He added that the land could have even been given to the town as a conservation measure.

Selectman Bob McHatton agrees with 95 percent of the petition, but declined to sign the petition because of the “70 percent” stipulation.

“It doesn’t say who determines the value,” he said.

Town attorney Agnieszka A. Dixon of Drummond Woodsum of Portland pointed out that the petition does not specifically request a secret ballot vote, thus selectmen may treat it as a request to be considered during open town meeting.

Attorney Dixon also reminded selectmen that they could include an “alternative article,” which would immediately precede the petitioned article on the warrant. The alternative article could read, “To see if the town will vote to authorize selectmen, on behalf of the town, to sell and dispose of any town-owned real estate, other than real estate acquired by the town for non-payment of taxes thereon, that the Board of Selectmen has determined to be surplus and to conduct the sale of such real estate by public auction with notice of the auction given to all abutting landowners and with the auction advertised in the newspaper of general circulation at least 14 days prior to the auction, on such terms as selectmen deem to be in the best interest of the town and to deliver a quit-claim deed to the successful purchaser. The net proceeds of any sale shall be deposited in the town’s General Fund.”

Selectman Fred Packard disliked the use of an auction to dispose of property, noting the costs involved, and preferred a sealed bid approach.

Discussion turned a bit testy when Chairman Watkins reiterated that selectmen did follow policy in handling the sale to McIver, utilizing authorization granted by voters through the approval of Article 29 (McHatton noted that same approval came in 2016 in passage of Article 33).

“I beg to differ,” countered Smith, who owns an apartment house on Kennard Street.

When Selectman Robert Murphy agreed that abutters should be notified of land availability for sale, Smith questioned why he voted to sell without public notice?

McHatton jumped into the fray noting that the property was off the tax rolls for close to 25 years. When someone finally stepped forward seeking to purchase it, selectmen felt it was in the town’s best interest to put $20,000 into the town’s pocket and put the property back on the tax rolls. He asked Smith why he didn’t make a bid. Smith responded he wasn’t aware it was for sale.

Facing a May 8 deadline to finalize the warrant, selectmen voted 4-1 (Robert Murphy against) to recommend a “no vote” on the petition due to its effect on tax-acquired properties.

In other town news:

Sign adjustment. Selectmen plan to stick with the proposed “lettered” message board for the Town Hall on North High Street, and not check into an “Ice” digital sign as suggested by local resident Bill Preis.

Officials learned that the sign designed by Muddy River Signs of Bridgton is “double sided” at a cost of $2,000, not including posts, hardware and installation. The town budgeted $12,000 for sign replacement.

Selectman Bear Zaidman suggested including the building’s physical address (26 North High Street) below “messages” rather than the town’s website address.

“The website isn’t historical, the address is,” Zaidman said. If people want to seek out the town website, Zaidman said all they need to do is type “Bridgton.” The change carried 3-2 with Chairman Greg Watkins and Selectman Bob McHatton casting no votes.

Six applications were received for the Planner/Community Development Director position. The filing deadline was last Friday, April 20.

To date, six people have applied for the Transfer Station laborer position. Applications are due by 4 p.m. this Friday, April 27. For more information, check the town’s website (bridgtonmaine.org) or contact Town Manager Robert Peabody at 647-8786.

Youth Safety Day and Bike Rodeo will be held on Saturday, May 5 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Stevens Brook Elementary School. Talk to local experts from the Maine Warden’s Service, Forest Service, Bridgton Police and United Ambulance to learn what they do and how they help!

There will be free bike helmets and tune-ups, so bring your own bike, trike or scooter to also ride in the rodeo. There will also be free car seat inspections. Also, enjoy music by The Fedoras.

The event is hosted by the Bridgton Police Department and sponsored by the Bridgton-Lake Region Rotary Club and Central Maine Healthcare.

Finishes fire work. Firefighter Adam Cook has completed the Standard for the Firefighter Professional Qualifications. By finishing Firefighter I and II course work, Cook is now “Pro Board” certified.

“The Bridgton Fire Department would like to recognize Adam on this accomplishment, which required over two years and hundreds of hours of training,” reported Deputy Town Manager Georgiann Fleck.

BFD continues to accept applications. To become a member, contact Fire Chief Stephen Fay at 647-8814.

CDC resignation. Selectmen accepted the resignation of Steve Rickert as a Community Development Committee member. Rickert cited “other obligations” as the reason for his decision.

“This committee is an important part of our community and the guidance it provides most valuable. I am impressed by the time and dedication of so many. I still would like to be a resource for the group and another link to our business community,” wrote Rickert, who is general manager of Hancock Lumber — Bridgton, in his resignation.

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