Settlers Landing, emergency fund discussed at annual Town Meeting

HANCOCK — It took almost four hours for 165 registered voters to consider 84 articles during the May 14 annual Town Meeting.

Voters rejected an article that would have set aside $200,000 for use in emergencies, but authorized the town to take over two roads in the Settlers Landing development.

Before voting began, George Colwell, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, addressed the audience, urging voters to approve Article 37, which sought to allow the selectmen to “use up to $200,000 from undesignated surplus in the event of overdrafts, unforeseen events or emergencies.”

When explaining his reasons, Colwell cited several examples of costly unforeseen circumstances the town has encountered, such as the unexpected death of the town treasurer a few years ago.

Several residents questioned the article, including one man who called it “insidious” because it would allow selectmen to make expenditures before alerting voters.

Selectman Ernest Butler said that residents can stay informed by attending selectmen’s meetings.

“We seldom see anyone at those meetings,” he said, adding only 67 people out of about 1,800 registered voters attended last year’s Town Meeting. “That’s absurd to have 67 people vote on everything.”

He said establishing the fund would allow the selectmen to take care of emergencies without the added expense of special town meetings, which are generally not well attended.

There was confusion over where the money would come from. The proposed 2019-20 budget says the money is to be raised by taxes but tax money was not part of the article itself.

Moderator Gary Hunt, an Ellsworth attorney, said the warrant trumps the budget. As it is worded, the article would set aside funds for just one year. If the town wants to establish a permanent fund, residents will have to vote next year to establish it as such.

The issue of the Settlers Landing development also came with some debate. The article proposed that the town take over approximately 10,000 feet of Settlers Drive and Crabtree Circle. Before the town takes the roads, the Settlers Landing Road Association must improve the road so that it is ready for paving. The town will borrow $281,463 for paving, and will recoup two thirds of the costs over the next 15 years from property taxes levied on the affected homes.

“We have such a challenging time maintaining those roads,” said Mark Green, president of the Settlers Landing Road Association.

Some suggested the remaining unsold lots in the development would be more attractive to buyers if the town owned and paved the roads. Sales would lead to the construction of new homes and new property tax revenue.

Others questioned why the whole town should pay to pave roads in a single development.

In another financial matter, eight articles asked voters to decide whether to fund community organizations for amounts ranging from $900 to $11,028. The total amount, which was approved, represents $34,523 or less than 1 percent of the total $5 million budget.

“It is the intention of this board to spend funds wisely,” Colwell said at the beginning of the meeting. “Do not succumb to emotion when voting on these warrants. Think carefully and spend wisely.”

In five of the eight cases, the selectmen recommended an amount less than that specified in the warrant. Colwell made motions to amend each of those articles to the lowered amounts in order to match last year’s contributions.

In each case, however, Colwell’s amendments were defeated and the articles passed as written. Had the amended articles passed, the town would have saved $4,794.

Voters also approved the $4.3-million school budget.

Johanna S. Billings

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Johanna S. Billings covers eastern Hancock County and western Washington County. An avid photographer, she lives in Steuben with her husband and several cats. She welcomes tips and story ideas. Email her at [email protected]

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