ELLSWORTH — Cupcake making, drilling tires, “drunk goggles” and wound wrapping — middle school students from across Hancock County could try all of these things and more during Middle School Day at Hancock County Technical Center (HCTC) on Saturday, March 25.
The event allows area middle school students to try out some of the opportunities offered before they get to high school. This year, enrollment was free for all students who wanted to participate thanks to a grant from the MELMAC Education Foundation.
“We want students to start thinking about [HCTC] as early as middle school, if not earlier, because I think students start to form ideas of what could be a good pathway for them, what could be an area of interest for them,” Executive Director Bill Tracy said.
“To have them actually come in, get hands-on in one of these programs, we may hit that fire for that kid, that spark that they go, ‘That’s absolutely what I want to do,’ then that’s what ignites them for the future.”
The 100 available slots filled within a week of registration going live. About 70 students ended up participating in the event.
Students could choose two programs to test out during the three-hour event, spending an hour and a half in each one. They could choose from automotive, culinary arts, cybersecurity, diesel technology, early childhood development, health occupations, hospitality (including travel and tourism), law enforcement and multimedia design.
Each vocation involved students gaining hands-on experience as they would if they end up coming back as high school students. Students on the law enforcement track tried to walk while wearing intoxication-mimicking goggles, culinary students baked different flavors of cupcakes, multimedia students experimented with Adobe Photoshop, and more.
Nayeli Monahan, 12, wants to be a writer when she grows up. She spent the day at HCTC in the Early Childhood and multimedia programs.
“It’s really great, and the people here are really nice,” she said of her experience. Because of her experience with the programming, she said she’s likely to come back once she’s in high school.
Ava Kidder, 16, is a current HCTC student who participated in the middle school program in seventh grade. Even though what she does at HCTC isn’t the same as the program she participated in as a middle school student, her experience inspired her to come back to study business and finance.
“It’s just a really great opportunity to inspire them, get them an early start on the career path they want to do,” she said. “...In middle school I wanted to play with kids and make slime, but now I have a better understanding … of all the jobs that are out there. There are tons of opportunities.”
Middle School Day currently happens annually, but Tracy noted that he hopes it will happen in both the fall and spring semesters in the future.
ELLSWORTH — The Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce’s new director reports for duty on Monday, not too many weeks before the seasonal economy revs up in earnest.
The Chamber Board of Directors on Wednesday, March 29, announced the hiring of Jacqueline Ewing, who most recently served as the director of the Women, Infants & Children (WIC) program of Hancock and Washington counties.
“The Board of Directors is very confident in our decision,” said Tom Wheeler, board chair. “Jacki comes to the Chamber with a lot of new energy and diverse experience, which will be integral to helping our chamber and community continue to grow and prosper. We are all very excited and look forward to her leadership as we transition into the next phase of the Chamber’s growth.”
Former Chamber director Gretchen Wilson stepped down in January, after serving the organization for 10 years. Wilson joined the Chamber as a community manager in late 2012, and became executive director in 2016. She succeeded Susan Farley in the role.
Ewing said she looks forward to building connections within the greater Ellsworth business community.
“I am very honored to be chosen to serve as the executive director of the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce,” Ewing said. “I look forward to meeting each member in the weeks and months ahead. The robust business landscape in Ellsworth and the surrounding communities makes this area a gem. And at the heart of this special area, is the people that live, work and play here. I am proud to be among them.”
Prior to relocating to Maine with her husband, Ewing was a businesswoman and entrepreneur. She held leadership roles on multiple civic boards, including the Tennessee Main Street Program, the Rogersville Arts Council and the Downtown Kingsport Association.
The Chamber serves about 700 members, and has a staff of three. The office is located at 151 High St., Suite 6, next to Martha’s. The Chamber helps promote and connect area businesses and inform visitors to the area about local amenities. Programs include Leadership Hancock County, Autumn Gold, Business After Hours and March Dine Around, among others.
The Chamber’s 67th Annual Awards Night will be June 1 starting at 5 p.m. with social hour in the Franklin Street parklet off Main Street. The awards ceremony will follow at The Grand. This year’s honorees include Top Drawer award winner Rooster Brother and Citizen of the Year Jack Frost.
FRANKLIN — TC Gravel filed a lawsuit against the town of Franklin on Feb. 6 over the town’s decision to not act on an application for a quarry that TC Gravel had originally applied for in March of 2021.
The town passed a quarry moratorium last fall, based on which the Franklin Planning Board decided to not act on the company’s application.
TC Gravel, which is represented by attorney Stephen Wagner of the law firm Rudman Winchell, is seeking judicial review of the Jan. 5, 2023, decision by the Planning Board to take no action on TC Gravel’s application for a special exemption permit. TC Gravel is seeking that the court remand consideration of the quarry application to the Franklin Planning Board and that the application be reviewed under the ordinance that was in place at the time the application was filed in 2021.
“We’re looking to continue the review of our application under the current ordinance which is what we prepared our application on,” said Wagner. “It’s unfair to change the rules after nearly two years.”
The town postponed action on the permit application after voters passed a rock quarry moratorium ordinance on Nov. 8, 2022. The town denies that the moratorium was unfairly applied to the TC Gravel application.
TC Gravel had been seeking a special exemption permit under the town’s zoning ordinance for rock quarrying, according to the lawsuit. Quarrying is only permitted in Franklin if a special exemption permit is obtained. In the lawsuit, TC Gravel alleges that the town of Franklin had singled out its application under the recent moratorium.
“The Town has applied the Moratorium in discriminatory fashion, in that it has applied the Moratorium only to TC Gravel’s application, and not to any other application for a permit or approval that would fall within the Moratorium’s broad definition of ‘quarrying,’ including, for example, building permits involving the cutting or blasting of rock to excavate a foundation or dig a well,” the lawsuit reads.
TC Gravel’s lawsuit also states that because the company’s application was already pending before the quarry moratorium was put in place, the moratorium should not apply to its application.
“TC Gravel’s Application is not subject to the Moratorium or any new or amended ordinance adopted during the term of the Moratorium because it was pending for purposes of 1 M.R.S. § 302 in that the Planning Board had conducted some degree of substantive review of the application and had proceeded well beyond a completeness review,” the lawsuit reads.
In the town’s response to TC Gravel’s initial complaint, officials acknowledge that the application was filed in March of 2021, but contend that the application was not complete at that time and that a substantive review did not take place. The town held several public hearings and meetings on the application, and the town heard from both the applicants and project opponents.
The town denied that the moratorium was meant to specifically target TC Gravel’s quarry application, or that the moratorium was applied in a discriminatory fashion.
“As I understand, the plaintiffs are simply asking the courts to direct the Planning Board to restart the review process,” said attorney Roger Huber of the Bangor law firm Farrell, Rosenblatt and Russell, which is representing the town of Franklin.
“What’s interesting about this case is that everyone seems to agree that the review standards are unconstitutional,” Huber said.
The purpose of the moratorium was to allow the town time to consider its current ordinances and come up with regulations specific to rock quarrying.
“The Moratorium states that it is necessary because ‘the Town’s special exemption standards have been alleged to be invalid and unenforceable, which if true, would leave the town with no effective regulation of the quarrying operations,’” the lawsuit reads.
If TC Gravel’s suit is successful, there is no guarantee that its quarry application will be approved, only that it will once again go under review by the Planning Board.
“We hope for the Planning Board to resume its consideration for the TC Gravel application,” said Wagner.
BLUE HILL — Loretta Smith has spent 38 years tending other people’s children as well as answering phone calls and questions and more as the Blue Hill Consolidated School secretary. And yet she’s still smiling.
The Maine Principals Association has named Smith, a Blue Hill native, Maine School Secretary of the Year.
New principal Dan Ormsby sent the association a glowing recommendation.
“Far too often we are busy with the hustle and bustle of everyday school to recognize the people that have committed their lives to this service,” Ormsby said. “Loretta Smith is monumentally deserving of this award. She is a shining example of a life of service to multiple generations of our youth. This award is an exciting opportunity to recognize one of Blue Hill’s finest people.”
Smith will be officially bestowed with the honor on Friday, March 31, at 8:45 a.m. in the school gymnasium.
The principals association’s executive director, Holly Blair, will present Smith with the award.
“It’s certainly a great honor and I’m overwhelmed and very humbled by it,” Smith said.
Even after four decades, Smith loves her job.
“Kids are kids,” Smith said. “If you didn’t love them, you wouldn’t stay here for 38 years. They’re forever writing me little notes. Luckily I get the good side of them. They ask me to call home or give me a message from a parent.”
If she didn’t work with children, Loretta might not know there were so many different ways to pronounce her first name. One of the latest is “Baretta.”
The Blue Hill native started working at the school when her own children were small, just one day a week selling lunch tickets. That quickly morphed into a position as the school secretary.
Speaking of lunch, a sizable chunk of Smith’s time over the past decades has been in collections — for breakfast and lunch and milk money, that is. That includes counting money, keeping track of who owes what and sending notes and, later, as technology developed, emails to errant parents.
But, the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to that. Now everyone receives free breakfast and lunch, Smith said.
Smith has also kept administrators and teachers on track over the past four decades.
Near the start of her career, a new principal held a staff meeting and asked everyone to state their mission for the new school year.
Smith described her younger self as “painfully shy” and said she wasn’t sure what she would say when it was her turn.
But, she came up with something that’s put her in good stead well beyond that year. Smith recalled announcing, “I guess I’m just here to help everybody else.”
Help she has.
“Over the course of Loretta’s 38-year career, she has worked with nine principals, seven superintendents, countless teachers, ed techs and families,” Ormsby said. “Loretta has taken the school through multiple rebuilds, renovations and shifts in technology to transition the school from paper and pencil to computers and spreadsheets.”
“I got along with all the principals,” Smith said. “I felt like I had a good relationship with all of them.”
Smith also helps with the seemingly never-ending events and campaigns the school runs.
“Besides the day-to-day tasks of being a front office secretary, Loretta has her hands in most of the projects the school takes part in,” Ormsby said. “Just a few of these are: holiday food baskets, fuel assistance programs, Christmas Angels program, winter clothing drives, backpack meal program and Sunshine Club. Loretta is truly a staple at BHCS.”
“Loretta is a hub of information for all families and school staff,” Ormsby said. “She is a trusted and loved part of Union 93. One of the most commonly used phrases at Blue Hill Consolidated is ‘Ask Loretta, she’ll know.’”
ELLSWORTH — The draft city budget for fiscal year 2024 indicates an 8.26 percent increase from fiscal year 2023, a decline from the 9.44 percent increase between fiscal years 2022 and 2023.
The total municipal budget is estimated to increase from $15,361,122 to $16,629,640. That does not include the city’s appropriation for the school budget, which was $11,517,466 in the current year. The budget is not finalized.
The City Council has begun budget workshops for various departments to discuss proposed changes and anticipated costs for the coming fiscal year. These workshops are part of the process of officially approving the overall city budget.
The Public Safety Department workshop took place on March 27, and included the Fire Department, police and emergency services. Public Safety’s overall estimated budget increase is 21.5 percent from fiscal year 2023, according to the draft budget.
Fire Chief Scott Guillerault noted at the workshop that the majority of the Fire Department’s proposed budget increase (slated at 19.5 percent) comes in the form of payroll with the addition of a new full-time firefighter, which was agreed upon in the fall. He also noted that the increasing cost of medical supplies due to inflation has exacerbated the budget.
“The payroll side of things, we’ve trimmed all that we can trim,” he said to councilors at the workshop. “We’re not even covering the cost of what inflation has done to us.”
He also noted that while vehicle maintenance budgeting did not need an increase, most other facets of the budget did, including a 3 percent increase in cost of services from Northern Light, a $10,000 increase to the fuel budget to account for fuel prices and more frequent calls and increasing contractual services prices (for city cellphones/tablets).
The city also recently approved the purchase of an ambulance to be used by emergency responders, which is included in the budget.
The Police Department also anticipates a budget increase for the 2024 fiscal year. Included is a $50,000 payroll increase to account for the split of the city manager and police chief positions. Currently, Glenn Moshier serves both roles and his paycheck comes out of the city administration budget; however, if the two positions are split at the end of his contract, the Police Department will have to account for adding payroll for the chief position back into their budget.
Workshops for the remaining departments are taking place over the next two weeks. City Council will finalize the budget after all workshops have taken place.
The workshop on the library and recreation budgets is scheduled for Monday, April 3. Capital expenses will be discussed Thursday, April 6. The School Department workshop is scheduled for Monday, April 10. Sessions are in the Council Chambers at City Hall and start at 6 p.m.