The question is in the mail

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — A straw poll at the special town meeting in January was not the last time residents would be asked to answer a question about the Casco Memorial School’s fate.

Questions continue to be asked.

Will elected officials get their answer through an upcoming questionnaire mailing? Will this method for seeking public input be the last straw? Will the results of this questionnaire be the catalyst that pushes into play how this town will proceed with the school building?

Check your mailboxes, Casco residents.

By late February, most residents will have received in the mail a questionnaire about the future of the Memorial School.

According to Town Manager Dave Morton, those questionnaires were being re-typed by staff and would get one more look-over from the town’s elected officials.

Residents will have the opportunity to weigh in on a single question: Do you support spending between $500,000 and $750,000 to remodel or to rebuild the Casco Memorial School?

Based on the higher number, the town would owe $6,700 annually for a 15-year period, Morton said. TD Bank provided the debt service schedule, he said.

“This would impact the mill rate by 10 cents,” Morton said.

At the Jan. 15 special town meeting, 32 voters participated in a non-binding straw poll. A noticeable majority said “yes” to moving forward with a Memorial School solution.

Then, at the Jan. 24 meeting, the Casco Board of Selectmen talked about seeking a wider sample of the population.

Chairman Barbara York viewed the straw vote result as sufficient, and favored going ahead with the voters’ wish to spend money on salvaging the school or building new on the property.

However, the board’s majority consensus was that public input was needed from a larger audience. So, the board decided upon a questionnaire; and Morton wrote down the board’s ideas for its content.

On Feb. 7, during a selectmen’s workshop, the board reviewed a first draft, and engaged in some constructive criticism.

The board aimed for the magic balance: Providing enough information to residents to assist them in answering the question, while not offering too much data that people might be overwhelmed, which would result in questionnaires being thrown in the trash or left unanswered.

Selectmen made some editing suggestions. By the end of the discussion, Morton had cut the wording in half, while still providing a history of the town’s ownership of the Memorial School.

The questionnaire editing session was not without some passion and frustrations.

“If people decide they are going to spend that amount of money, they won’t decide it here. Do they have the will to have their taxes raised? That is what the question should be,” said Selectman Ray Grant.

Grant favored cutting out portions of the information that he considered to be biased.

While Grant wanted fewer words, Selectman Tracy Kimball opted to keep – and, possibly add to – the language that outlined what had been accomplished so far.

“I think it is too simple for how much work has gone into this,” said Kimball.

“It looks like this page is one-sided,” Grant said. “If you want to give people the information, you’d have to give them a booklet instead. You can say, ‘We’ve had engineering studies done and site walks.’”

Kimball responded to Grant’s comment saying, “What I am hearing is: You are reading this (and saying) that there is a suggestion one way or the other. I read it as the information that has been found so far.”

Selectman Mary-Vienessa Fernandes agreed that more information should accompany the one question residents are being asked.

“The problem is I didn’t have enough information to make a decision on spending $500,000 to $750,000,” she said. “If we started with what we’ve done to date, and take it from there, that would work.”

She pointed out that not everyone follows board meetings or watches it on cable TV; and people might appreciate the additional background information on the Memorial School issue.

“Give people more information. With qualified information, they can make qualified decisions,” Fernandes said.

To wrap up the discussion, the town manager recommended the board take action before its next meeting, which is scheduled in two weeks.

Morton suggested selectmen approve (or improve) the most recent draft of the questionnaire via e-mail. The town will supply the return envelopes with each questionnaire; however, the town did not take on the cost of stamps, he said.

People can either return the response form with the help of the United States Post Office or use the drop boxes that will be displayed around town. Likely, drop boxes will be located at the Casco Community Center and the Casco Town Office.

A two-week time frame will be given for people to answer the questionnaire and return the form, Morton said.

The questionnaire was mailed to addresses generated from a list of the town’s registered voters — a decision made at the Feb. 7 selectmen’s meeting. At that time, Morton asked the board if staff should use the property taxpayers’ list or the registered voters’ list for the mass mailings.

“Which group would be most affected?” asked Kimball.

Morton answered, “The taxpayer list is the larger list, and those are the folks that would bear the burden.”

Also, during the Feb. 7 meeting, Morton said, “This is the best time to build. We will never be able to build any cheaper. But it is the worst time to be asking voters to commit more tax dollars for a project.”

Please follow and like us: