Turnout shrinks at Naples annual town meeting

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — By the time the clock struck seven, only 35 residents were seated in the gymnasium for the Naples Town Meeting.

It’s not uncommon for voters to arrive at the last minute, and a trio of women walked through the gym doors and over to the table to pick up their voting cards.

On Wednesday evening, about 10 residents sat in front of the room, representing the Naples Board of Selectmen and the Naples Budget Committee.

The Town Meeting turnout of 53 people this year was about two-thirds smaller than in 2015. Last year, about 150 participated in the annual event.

It seemed that more people were eating dinner at local restaurants in Naples than voting at annual town meeting.

The extremely low turnout is troubling, especially compared to the crowd that showed up last year, according to resident Jim Grattelo, who thought the Town Meeting could have been better publicized on the town’s website and at the town office.

“The turnout was terrible, just terrible,” resident Roger Clement said.

According to Naples Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak, there has been a steady decline in town meeting turnouts over the years. But, the attendance seems to spike when there are controversial items, he said. Last year, several ordinances were proposed that garnered more interest and a bigger crowd, Paraschak said. This year, there were two fire alarm ordinances that didn’t get anyone fired up, he said.

Because many warrant articles were voted on as a block and because discussion was brief, the meeting was wrapped up in 40 minutes.

Metaphorically speaking, there were not any fireworks.

However, residents did ask for clarification on two warrant articles that funded fireworks.

Early on, someone made the motion to combine Warrant Article 3 through 25 as a block. The motion was altered as various people asked to exclude Warrant Articles 10, 16, 18 and 24 from that block. Those four articles were discussed separately after the majority of residents passed the first block of warrant articles.

Both Warrant Article 16 and 24 deal with appropriating money for fireworks in the 4th of July Account.

“Are we voting for $8,000 or is that a total of $16,000,” Resident Doug Bogdan asked.

Naples Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak said, “It’s not just fireworks. The (Cumberland County) Sheriff’s office bills us $1,500 for services, and there are miscellaneous expenditures” for the town’s Independence Day celebration.

Bogdan asked if someone from the town contacted the business community, asking for donations for the fireworks.

“Are we still raising funds from local businesses? We used to rely on that,” Bogdan said.

Paraschak responded, “Yes, of this fiscal year, we have $1,650 in donations. Usually a couple thousand dollars come in before and a few thousand dollars are donated after” July 4.

Article 16 was passed, and later Article 24 was on the floor.

“This is the other fireworks warrant article,” Paraschak said. “We expend up to $16,000 for the Fourth of July events — fireworks, the parade.”

“The first one comes out of the (Tax Increment Financing) TIF fund. The businesses that pay taxes are funding half of” the cost. The second warrant article is the approval of money from property taxes, he said.

Someone in the audience said, “It is unclear. In (Warrant Article) 16, the money is mentioned twice.”

Paraschak said, “The reason it is mentioned twice. It is raising money out of TIF district. Then, we have to appropriate it.”

Audience members indicated that they understood that explanation, and Warrant Article 24 was passed as well.

The next motion was to combine article 26 through 48 as one block. That was done and that block was passed. Likewise, the residents combined and approved warrant articles 52 through 63. The remaining few articles were passed in quick succession and the meeting was adjourned.

The voters got an explanation before they weighed in on Warrant Article 51, the renewal of the agreement between the towns of Naples and Casco for the shared transfer station and bulky waste facility.

Selectman Dana Watson provided the explanation.

“We started using these facilities at separate times. So, we operated them separately. It is more convenient to put them together. It’s more simple — that is all there is,” Watson said.

Paraschak said that about 20 years ago, the individual towns were spending too much on waste disposal. So, the towns of Casco and Naples decided to share the expenses, he said.

“We have an arrangement with Casco. They have the employees, and we do the bookkeeping. The arrangement works great,” Paraschak said.

He told the audience that Naples and Casco are joint owners of the facilities. “We have 50 percent ownership in everything,” he said.

In other conversations, at previous meetings, it was mentioned that consolidation would save money by having one audit instead of two.

“We are looking to consolidate the two facilities into one,” Paraschak said.

Voters agreed to a renewal of this agreement with Casco.

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