Social-service funding requests get scrutiny at Hancock Town Meeting



HANCOCK — Funding for social services proved to be the only real source of debate for voters here during the town’s annual Town Meeting Tuesday night.

In a little over two hours, about 60 voters approved a budget (including education and county government costs) of $4,835,207. Of that, $3.6 million was to fund the Hancock School Department, just over $1 million was the municipal budget and the remaining $163,339 was for county taxes.

Despite those big numbers it was small-ticket items that drew the most attention. Both the school budget and social service articles were moved from the back of the warrant to the front at the request of Selectman George Colwell. Several items in the 13 education-related articles required explanation from Moderator Gary Hunt and Superintendent Katrina Kane, but each article carried easily.

Colwell read a prepared statement in advance of the votes on the eight warrant articles asking for a total of $34,144 for various social service groups. He said that dollar figure, while small in relation to the overall budget, represented a 13-percent increase over what the town saw for requests last year and that the potential for such requests to keep growing was essentially “limitless.”

“The town’s funds are limited,” Colwell said.

The town also has brick-and-mortar needs that should be addressed at the town office, fire station and Hancock Grammar School, he said. Better storage is needed for vital records and the town has decades-old fire trucks that will have to be replaced at some point.

“The list grows, and the list costs money,” Colwell said. “If your emotions dictate that you support these organizations, then please do so on your own — the town has done its share.”

Downeast Community Partners (formerly two separate agencies, Washington Hancock Community Agency and Child and Family Opportunities) requested $11,028. Selectmen and the budget committee recommended $6,949, which is what WHCA received last year from Hancock. Selectmen said the goal this year was to hold the line on spending to keep the tax rate even at $11 per $1,000 in property valuation.

Mark Green, executive director of Downeast Community Partners and a Hancock resident, said the $11,028 request represented 5 percent of the total value of services provided by the organization to people who live in the town. In two separate votes, however, residents favored the lower amount by comfortable margins.

The Down East Family YMCA asked for $5,200 and received that after the Y’s Youth Sports Director Shane Lowell and resident Corey Bagley both spoke in support of the funding. Bagley said the town’s recreation commission has “partnered with the Y for years” and that the organization “has always accommodated us.”

Lowell said 225 Hancock residents are members of the Y, about 10 percent of the town’s population of 2,300. When Hunt quipped that “probably a few more of us could stand to go to the Y,” Colwell had an answer.

“We’re too busy working to earn money to pay the taxes,” he said.

The Ellsworth Public Library asked for $8,586 but got $8,000 instead (equal to last year’s funding). Closer to home, the Frenchman’s Bay Library at the Sullivan-Sorrento Recreation Center asked for the same amount it got last year, too — $1,250 — but a voice vote on the request proved too close for Hunt to call.

A show-of-hands vote then split 23 in favor and 23 opposed (as counted by Town Clerk Toni Dyer, who said she had not voted and then did not want to once she counted and realized it was a tie). Hunt ruled that without majority support, the motion to raise the $1,250 for the library failed. It will get zero dollars from the town of Hancock this year as a result.

Friends in Action asked for and received $800. Executive Director Jo Cooper, who is also a selectman in neighboring Lamoine, touted the benefits citizens receive from the organization. She said the value of transportation provided by Friends in Action volunteers to residents, for example, amounted to more than $105,000.

“You’re getting quite a bit of value for your investment,” she said, adding that groups like hers are “saving your municipality a great deal of time and money.”

Other social service funding approved Tuesday night included: $1,900 for Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry, $2,880 for the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program and $1,000 for Hospice Volunteers of Hancock County (down from a request of $2,500).

After spending the bulk of their time on education and social-service funding, voters made quick work of the rest of the warrant. At Green’s suggestion, articles 16 through 53 (representing the town’s own spending for the next year, and totaling more than $1.1 million) were taken as a block — a “superarticle,” Hunt called it — and approved on a unanimous voice vote after only one question regarding road work.

The single-biggest line increase in the town’s budget was administration, which went from $220,159 last year to $257,033 this year (up almost $37,000, or 16.7 percent). The annual report noted the town hired two staff members to replace former Treasurer and Tax Collector Cindy Carter after she died unexpectedly in 2017. Diane Simmons is now the full-time treasurer and tax collector, while Carol Marshall is part-time deputy clerk, tax collector and treasurer.

The meeting began with Road Commissioner Rudy Bagley being recognized as the town’s Citizen of the Year for 2017. Sandy Phippen made the presentation, calling Bagley a “good family man” who is “always working” and who also happens to be “a good dancer.” Even though Bagley grew up in Milbridge, Phippen said he “married a girl from Hancock” and has done a lot for the town in the years since, including donating materials for building the ball field at the school.

In returns from elections held Monday, Selectboard Vice Chairman Ernest Butler was re-elected as both selectman and assessor. Nicholas Branca and Antonio Blasi were re-elected to the Planning Board, Branca with 50 votes and Blasi with 14-write in votes. Donald Parker was elected as an associate member of the Planning Board, while Scott Dyer Jr. was appointed as a second associate member by selectmen. All of those offices carry three-year terms.

Kristi Dyer was elected to the School Board for a three-year term while Tracy Moon was elected to a one-year term on the school board.

Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

Reporter at The Ellsworth American,
Steve Fuller worked at The Ellsworth American from 2012 to early 2018. He covered the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. A native of Waldo County, he served as editor of Belfast's Republican Journal prior to joining the American. He lives in Orland.