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From left, Chair of Selectman Paul Bowe—explaining details of the municipal budget—with selectmen Stanley Shorey and Harold Hatch.
Finance Committee Chairman Nick Henry explains the logic behind the committee’s recommendations for charitable requests at Penobscot town meeting on March 5.
School board Chairman Jerry Markley addresses voters at Penobscot town meeting on March 5.
Jamie Sarna makes her point at Penobscot town meeting on March 5.
“Thank you for the honor,” Jim Henry said after voters passed an article renaming the Zig Zag ball field after him at Penobscot town meeting on March 5.
Voters raise their hands at Penobscot town meeting on March 5.
by Anne Berleant
A municipal budget of $488,251 passed with few hiccups at town meeting on March 5, but voters denied school articles requesting to use a $20,000 reserve fund and appropriate another $31,000 from taxation to expand the school parking lot. The vote against the reserve fund was 26-19; the vote for the additional money received no hands.
Calling the project “a safety issue” and citing delays at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting disaster from a car-packed school entrance drive, School Board Chairman Jerry Markley pledged to “stay here long enough to see it built,” before the articles failed to pass.
The town had first approved placing $20,000 into a reserve account for the project over five years ago. After septic field work and two site plans delayed the project, the lowest bid came in at just over $51,000, with a possible $27,000 more needed for paving in two years.
The costs of the two site plan reviews was a sore topic for some. Selectman Harold Hatch questioned why, after voting at last year’s town meeting to pay for them from the reserve account, the $2,500 cost was instead taken out of the school’s operation and maintenance budget.
“Article 14 last year authorized spending money out of this [reserve] account and it wasn’t done. I want to know why,” Hatch said.
No clear answer came from Superintendent Mark Hurvitt or the school board.
The school board must now figure out how best to use the reserve account funds, Hurvitt said after the articles failed to pass.
The Zig Zag ball field on the New Road was unanimously renamed the Jim Henry Field, an effort started by Sonia Turanksi.
“If there was a good Samaritan award, I’d nominate Jim,” said Turanski, who also started an electronic score board fund at Camden National Bank, which she said is halfway to its goal.
“Thank you for this honor,” said Henry.
Discussions from the floor mainly centered around requests from charitable organizations, such as Peninsula Ambulance Corps, which asked for $15,700 or, as PAC vice president Tony Newton explained, $12.43 per resident, a $1 per capita increase from the past five years. The finance committee recommended last year’s requested amount of $14,436.
“Why go against the judgment of the finance committee?” asked a voice from the floor.
The committee “kept flat funding on all requests,” said Chairman Nick Henry. “Not all the votes were unanimous.”
Resident Jeff Fitch spoke in favor of granting the increase. “The town needs to speak and stand together on services we need.”
Voters passed the higher request. However, the Blue Hill Library did not fare as well. Asking $3,600, and with the finance committee recommending $2,500, a quick motion by Jamie Sarna amended the amount to $1,000. Sarna cited figures from a distributed flier of 467 Penobscot library users in 2012, down from the previous year, and a $3.6 million library endowment. A second motion by Hugh Evans amended the amount to $3,600; the vote was called but failed 24-46. A third motion to amend the amount to $2,500 also failed 39-42, with a request from the floor for a recount declined by moderator Sherm Hutchins (“It was close, but I counted it right”). The library was finally granted $1,000, with Hutchins reminding voters that voting material should not be distributed at the meeting.
Some information in the flier was incorrect, said Blue Hill Library Director Rich Boulet in a telephone call the next day.
“The number of users from Penobscot increased from last year,” he said. “In 2011, we recorded 547 Penobscot library card holders. In 2012 we reported 572.”
The Tree of Life, a new request and behind the finance committee’s decision to lower its recommendation for the library, Henry said, quickly passed. All other charitable requests passed as recommended.
The only municipal article that failed to pass was a $1,000 appropriation for the Penobscot Days Celebration and fireworks.
“If we’re talking money, this is certainly icing on the cake,” said Evans. “Let’s see if we want to spend money or save money.”
A sum of $25,000 went to the fire truck reserve account and $8,000 toward construction of a permanent fishway for the dam at Wight’s Pond, after the theft of a fish ladder last year.
In town elections, incumbents Selectman Paul Bowen and school board member Jim Goodman retained their seats, with Billy Hutchins to continue as road commissioner. No races were contested. Carla Hutchins received 21 write-in votes to fill a school board seat vacated by Jody Norton.
Voters passed a 2013-14 school budget of $1,582,784 that contained no new programs, but seven or eight more high school tuitions to pay than last year. The total amount is up 4.75 percent or $71,773 from this year, with high school tuition accounting for $61,293 of the increase.
“We’ll live with a tight budget and work it out with the kids,” said Superintendent Mark Hurvitt.
While all school articles passed except for those relating to the parking lot expansion project, citizens complained at how the budget was presented, with articles printed in the town report and a separate, detailed budget available as a hand-out.
“It’s a disservice to voters to not have the school budget in the town report,” said Penny Hatch.
The PTF sponsored a spaghetti dinner beforehand and offered coffee and cupcakes during the meeting, which ended just before 10 p.m.