Harrison town manager to retire in December

IT'S TIME — After seven years as town manager in Harrison, George "Bud" Finch announced Tuesday night he will retire in December.

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

HARRISON — When Bud Finch was hired to be Harrison’s town manager, he figured it would be a very short tenure.

He could retire anytime.

He was a stop-gap measure until the town could land another manager, at some point.

But, he fell in love with the quaint, little town known as the Friendly Village.

Selectmen liked his work, and offered to extend the contract.

One year (November 2010) turned to seven. But, Finch has reached the end of the municipal management road.

“It is with mixed emotions that I am notifying you this evening of my intent to retire, effective Dec. 31, 2017,” Finch announced to selectmen Tuesday. “My mixed emotions are due to a variety of reasons.”

Finch said he made many friends over the years, “and for the most part felt I was accepted as part of the community family and leaving friends and family is always difficult,” he said.

“I love my work and have never considered being a town manager just a 9-to-5 job. I do want to clarify it is possible to love your work and hate your job at the same time,” he added. “My hope is that Harrison is better off because I was here as I would like to think the seven years of my retired life were not given up in vain.”

Finch feels Harrison was a great stop along his pathway through life, and while he had thoughts of continuing to serve well into the future, “reality” told him the time had arrived to move on.

Sixty-eight going on 69, Finch said, “There comes a time you know you’re getting old.”

“My plan is to go silently into the night as discretion is always the better part of valor and with my best wishes to the people of Harrison,” he concluded in his prepared statement.

Board of Selectmen chairman Matthew Frank thanked Finch for doing a “great job” over his seven years, and that he would be missed.

“I am happy for you,” Frank said. “If you think it is your time to retire, it is the right decision to make. I’ll miss you.”

In other business,

Looking at educational options. As selectman Rick Sykes found out after having a discussion with local historian Gerry Smith, Harrison has been down the road of investigating its educational options, other than sticking with SAD 17.

Sykes told his fellow board members that in 1993, Harrison was joined by other disgruntled towns, Otisfield and Waterford, in considering possible withdrawal from SAD 17. Money was raised ($10,000) and a consultant was hired to investigate options.

The effort somewhat fizzled when both Waterford and Otisfield dropped out. Harrison marched on. A new committee formed in 1995, and targeted equitable funding and quality education as its main focuses.

Harrison had SAD 17’s attention. A year later, the town had secured a change in the funding formula with 75% based on property valuation and 25% on student population.

So, where does this new education analysis effort go is a question Sykes posed to selectmen Tuesday. Through his own experiences as a state legislator, Sykes knows state leadership is pushing for fewer school districts, not adding smaller ones to the education pile.

“What do we want to do? What are the costs associated with this type of work? Do we hire a consultant? Do we create a budget? Are our concerns just (educational) costs or quality of education? These are things we need to think about before jumping into this,” Sykes said.

Chairman Frank, who triggered the conversation about studying options, had a call suggesting that the committee include parents, who have students in the system. Selectman Archie Belanger suggested that former or retired teachers also be considered (not present educators, who are employed by SAD 17).

Selectman Ray Laplante said the group would not have a budget unless the matter was brought to a town meeting. He said it would be helpful if the committee had a “stated purpose, goal.”

Frank sees too many inequities that presently exist. He cited that Harrison has 8.5% of students enrolled in SAD 17, yet is responsible for 17% of the budget (roughly $12,200 per pupil cost).

“We pay 17% of the budget, yet we have just two representatives on the 22-member school board,” Frank said. “We have two elected members dealing with 65% of our budget, and five (selectmen) dealing with the remainder.”

The town will soon advertise, seeking volunteers to work on the Educational Analysis Committee.

Truck purchase approved. With winter looming in the months ahead, the town is in need of a one-ton truck to help with plowing.

There is no life left in an existing truck, which has been used to plow intersections and other places over the past 14 years.

After talking with Public Works employees and discussing what inventory is available at five dealerships, Finch narrowed the choice to a fully-equipped Ford one-ton, priced at $63,428. The purchase would be made with funds taken from the Capital Reserve Account, which is over the $1 million mark.

Finch didn’t expect the older truck to “die” before the plowing season hits, but noted that is why the town has built a reserve account to address such matters when they arise.

Finch said the new truck offers the town “flexibility,” has the Public Works crew’s approval and “the price is right.”

Hearing that the town did not seek public bids for the truck, Selectman Sykes questioned if the purchasing policy was followed. Finch said the policy was indeed reviewed and followed.

Selectmen voted 5-0 to authorize the purchase. Finch hopes additional negotiations with the vehicle dealer could lower the price. Selectmen also suggested that the town could try to sell the older model, “as is,” in hopes of recouping some funds to put toward the new purchase.

Abatement denied. Feeling Mark Sawicki failed to present comparable local real estate in his attempts to gain an abatement for his 3.2-acre Bakers Akers Road property, selectmen unanimously rejected the request.

Sawicki told selectmen he had purchased the property for $675,000, but the town valued the shorefront home on Long Lake at $903,600.

Assessor John Wentworth pointed out that one property in the appraisal report was actually in Bridgton, not Harrison. He also noted that town officials could not use the appraisal report as a basis for a decision without seeking permission from the author — a stipulation clearly stated in the report. The report was created for the buyer’s lending institution, Quicken Loans.

Wentworth also noted that while the town is certified at 110% valuation, it is actually in the 95 to 98% range.

Initially, selectmen considered tabling the matter until Sawicki could provide more comparable property examples, but Wentworth said a delay could actually hurt Sawicki’s ability to appeal Harrison’s decision.

The abatement process has a specific timeline, and tabling could result in Sawicki missing a deadline to submit his case to the county commissioners. The initial abatement request was submitted in July, but the town did not take up the matter until after August when the tax rate was set.

Selectman Bill Winslow motioned to deny the request due to lack of enough information. Selectmen agreed 5-0.

Tax info online. Finch noted as Harrison continues along the technology pathway, the public now has the ability to find property card and tax information online at the town webpage (www.harrisonmaine.org/assessor).

To find property card information and current tax information click on the “Harrison property cards.” In the drop down menu, select Harrison. Select how you wish to see the information and then select what you would like to use for search criteria. Current taxes due on the property are located at the bottom of the page for the property selected to view.

Town Office closed Wednesday, Oct. 4 in order for the office staff to attend training programs at the Maine Municipal Associations annual conference in Augusta.

Transfer Station was closed Wednesday to allow the contractor the necessary time and safety for the paving of the roadway and to limit vehicle use as it sets. The station will reopen at its regularly-scheduled time of 8 a.m. on Friday.

2017 Capital Roads Project. Finch was pleased to tell selectmen that the town has completed the 2017 major road projects with the paving of Town Farm Road.

“This completes what has been one of the largest, if not the largest town road improvement package undertaken in Harrison,” Finch reported.

This year’s project included the major upgrade, (reclaim, gravel, base coat, top coat and shoulders) of Dawes Hill, Deerhill, Fogg, Buck and Town Farm Roads.

“Thanks to F. R. Carroll Inc. of Limerick for the great work his people did,” the manager added.

Secondary projects this year — as part of the package — included Lincoln Street, Transfer Station roadway and the upper parking lot at the Town Office. Finch thanked A&W Paving Inc., of Norway for their efforts.

With the completion of this work, Harrison has successfully upgraded over 6.25 miles of road, bringing the five-year total to 15.5 miles — accounting for about 30% of the 48 miles of town owned roads.

Next week, roadwork issues between Reid Road and Blueberry Lane on Summit Hill Road will be addressed. The work to be done will require the road to be shut down for short periods and at various times. Culvert replacement will be required at the entrance of Reid Road with along with another across Summit Hill Road.

End of the summer. The end of summer brings the shutdown of local parks. Removal of floats and docks at Crystal Lake and Long Lake parks will begin taking place this week and should be completed close to Oct. 15.

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