Harrison to student educational options; seek committee volunteers

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

HARRISON — Matt Frank questions whether Harrison is getting its money’s worth as a member of SAD 17.

The school system received a “C’ grade from the state, yet Harrison pays a premium price for local students’ education as a top-taxed town in the district.

Harrison is at the top of the taxation list, but near the bottom for representation on the school board. Frank pointed out that the positions of power — chairman, vice chairman and leader of the budget committee — are all from the “big towns” — Oxford, Norway and South Paris — in SAD 17.

Frank wonders if Harrison can do better?

“We’re paying 18 to 20% of the bill at SAD 17,” he said. “We should have a fair amount of ownership.”

Selectmen Tuesday night concurred. The board will create an “educational analysis committee.” The committee will include two selectmen — Rick Sykes and Frank each volunteered to serve — along with a school board member and four volunteers from the public.

Initially, Selectman Bill Winslow suggested the committee consist of five members, feeling too large a group would likely be counterproductive. Sykes felt the public figure should be moved to four as insurance, in case someone is absent.

Selectman Ray Laplante encouraged the board to develop a specific charge for the committee. Sykes agreed and volunteered to draft the charge, and bring it back to the board for approval.

Officials also plan to reach out to neighboring Waterford and Otisfield to be included in the conversation, since both towns face the same predicament.

In other selectmen’s meeting news:

Mill rate dips. Some good news for local taxpayers came Tuesday night when selectmen set the mill rate at $10.65 per thousand valuation, which is 30 cents less than this past fiscal year.

Assessor’s Agent John Wentworth initially recommended $10.55, but the board sided with Town Manager’s Bud Finch’s suggestion of $10.65.

Finch’s rationale (presented by Town Clerk Melissa St. John in the manager’s absence) is that the rate relief will likely be just for one year since the expectation is the school tax will increase.

So, taxpayers will catch a discount, and if the rate rises as expected, the hike won’t be so steep, St. John said.

Fall fixup. The local Lions Club would like to “spruce up” Crystal Lake Park by bringing in loam, planting more grass, repairing the Gazebo, and resetting some cobblestones that have deteriorated.

Selectmen applauded the Lions’ willingness to take on the community project.

Code Enforcement Officer John Wentworth suggested that before Lions pick up shovels and go to work, they should file a permit application and outline what they plan to do — just to be sure local and state Shoreland Zoning regulations are met.

Lion Steve Johnson will handle the necessary paperwork.

Some fees to rise. It will cost a few dollars to dispose of unwanted propane tanks and floor-model copiers.

Selectmen made a few adjustments to disposal fees charged at the transfer station. Since it costs $2 per propane tank for disposal, a charge the town previously assumed, consumers will now be charged $3 to get rid of the tank.

“We sure get a lot of them,” said Selectman Achille Belanger, recalling his days working at the transfer station. Belanger suggested charging the rate the town pays, but Board Chairman Matt Frank felt the town should also cover its manpower costs, thus he proposed $5. Selectman Bill Winslow delivered the compromise, $3 per tank.

The floor-model copier fee moved from 13 cents per pound to 15 cents. One suggestion was 20 cents, but Winslow felt that cost was a “little excessive.”

One item officials refused to tag with a disposal fee is fluorescent lights. The fear is charging a fee will likely lead to some consumers simply dumping the bulbs into their household trash. Officials and ecomaine, which handles Harrison’s solid waste, would rather see the bulbs disposed in an environmentally-sound way.

Technology vs. old school. With the arrival of cable TV broadcasting board meetings and audio-recording of each session by the town clerk, Maine Municipal Association attorneys see no need for written minutes.

Board Chairman Matt Frank concurred, suggesting that Harrison discontinue written minutes in favor of electronic recordings.

Selectman Rick Sykes, however, strongly disagreed.

“Meeting minutes should be written. The board is responsible to be as transparent as possible,” he argued. “It is an arrogant statement to townspeople that if they want to know what happened, go watch the videotape.”

Citing a Maine Townsman article, Selectman Ray Laplante clarified that meeting minutes are not transcripts. With 40 years of business experience, Laplante said meeting minutes simply state what major items were discussed, what policy was created, and what the final vote was.

Sykes countered, feeling written minutes provide townspeople easy access to learn what transpired at municipal meetings. He also likes the ability for selectmen to add either comments or positions to the public record after the fact, when written minutes are voted upon at the next board meeting.

Belanger added that a written record provides the town with good “backup” to audio and television recordings.

Town Clerk Melissa St. John weighed in on the matter by agreeing that the minutes reflect discussion (not verbatim), policy matters and votes. Yet, it is also easier to track down the information by flipping pages quickly than trying to find the exact point on an audio or television recording, especially if a meeting lasts over an hour.

After lengthy discussion and one failed vote, Winslow made a motion to keep sections 3.1 to 3.1.6 of the town’s existing Meeting Minutes policy and change the language on 3.2 to “selectmen wishing to have additional data or comments that have been stated during the meeting to be included in the minutes will send them typed to the secretary to be added to the next agenda as an addition to the minutes.”

The motion carried by a 4-1 vote, Frank opposed, keeping written minutes on the table.

Road work moving along. It’s been a busy summer for the town’s road crew. St. John reported that Buck Road received its final coat of pavement, while Fogg Road had its base coat applied. Work on Town Farm Road is expected the last week of August.

St. John noted that some residents, whose driveway entrances have been affected by paving, would see “fixes” in the near future.

Next meeting: The board’s next regular meeting is set for Tuesday, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m.

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