Christmas lights generate heat in Blue Hill

BLUE HILL — Holiday lights are generating heat in the town of Blue Hill.

First, the selectmen decided they can’t spend taxpayer money for Christmas lights without the consent of the electorate.

Then, Scrooge-like vandals slashed strands of lights that had been hung on trees in the roundabout by a newly forming Blue Hill Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce.

Vandals also slashed strands of lights hung on a private residence on Tenney Hill.

The lights saga began last month when the Chamber of Commerce got in touch with the town to talk Christmas lights.

“Early in November, when we started to seriously plan, I got together with Jody Murphy, who is town treasurer and [administrative assistant],” said Johanna Barrett, who is director of the Blue Hill Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. “We both concurred there was essentially a role for the town, as is the case with other towns along Route 1.

“She had a conversation with selectmen and there was positive feedback. There might have been money left in a firework fund.”

But then the Board of Selectmen couldn’t decide if there would be money for lights, Barrett said.

Meanwhile, Barrett spoke with chamber board member and Blue Hill Memorial Hospital President John Ronan, who said the hospital could put forward $500 if the town would match it.

The point of the white light decorating effort was to promote economic development in Blue Hill.

“That’s a very simple, neutral statement that says we care, we’re open for business, stop in and see us,” Barrett said.

“The chamber did it in good faith,” said Schatz. “They shouldn’t be admonished.”

“This whole light thing is completely out of control,” Selectman Vaughn Leach said.

Nevertheless, a holiday light contribution from Blue Hill’s general fund, or any other fund, is not going to happen.

“About the only thing we decided was we really couldn’t take $500 of the town’s money for something the hospital was putting up,” without talking to the voters, Selectman John Bannister said.

Leach said the selectmen must follow the will of the voters as presented at the Town Meeting.

The board thought, “How about it we just donate the money,” Bannister said. “I was OK with that if that’s what Jim and Vaughn wanted to do. I thought we were going to put it in a town account for Christmas lights and dole the money out as bills came in.”

“Then I heard Jim wanted to just send the money to the Chamber of Commerce,” Bannister said. In fact, Schatz has sent the chamber a personal check for $170 for holiday decorations.

Bannister and Leach disagreed with that move.

“We need to keep a little fiduciary responsibility here,” Bannister said. “We need to keep control of that. We can’t just say, ‘Here’s some money, go away.’”

“I really don’t know what’s happening right now,” Bannister said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article contained an error. Jody Murphy should have been identified as the town of Blue Hill’s treasurer and administrative assistant.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.

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