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Rockport Select Board votes down request for referendum

By Dwight Collins | Aug 06, 2014
Photo by: Dwight Collins Members of the Rockport Select Board Aug. 5 voted 3-2 to reject a request for a non-binding referendum proposed by the library committee to be placed on the November ballot.

Rockport — Rockport Select Board members rejected the request to place a non-binding referendum about the library on the November ballot by a 3-2 vote at a public meeting Aug. 5 at Rockport Opera House.

Select Board Chairman William Chapman and Board member Tracy Lee Murphy voted in favor of placing the question on the ballot as written, while Ken McKinley, Geoffrey Parker and Charlton Ames all voted against the measure in its presented form.

The question written and proposed by the committee was: “Do you agree that the town of Rockport should develop a plan for a new library on the RES [Rockport Elementary School] site, provided the current ball fields are preserved and pending community input on design and budget?”

Parker, McKinley and Ames all said they felt the wording of the referendum needed to be reworked and all five selectmen voted unanimously to spend a portion of the Aug. 11 regular select board meeting to help wordsmith a new question. It is unclear if the timeline will allow for a new question to be placed on the November ballot. Prior to the Aug. 11 meeting, additional public comment will be accepted through noon in the form of letters and emails. Written submissions may be dropped off at the town office in person, mailed to P.O. Box 10, Rockport, ME 04856 or via email to librarypublichearing@town.rockport.me.us. Written correspondence should state if the author is in favor, against or taking no position; full name and local address must also be included. All written correspondence becomes part of the public record.

Murphy said she felt it was not the select board's responsibility to tell members of the library committee how to word the question, but rather, it was the Board's responsibility to approve or reject the request to put it on the ballot.

“Our decision is whether or not to put this on the ballot,” she said. “I believe my job is to put it on the ballot. It doesn’t mean I support it, it means I believe it goes on the ballot.”

Chapman said he was in support of sending the referendum to the voters as-is.

McKinley said he was not happy with the way the question was worded and felt with some minor changes in verbiage could, “preclude closing off options and perhaps get a better mandate on the question.”

Ames said his reasoning behind voting against the measure was because he felt the question should be expanded into one that gives voters multiple choices; while Parker expressed concerns the question as written could be open to interpretation that was not intended.

Prior to the vote, 34 residents got the opportunity to voice their opinions. Each speaker was given 3-minutes to state whether they were for, against or had no opinion either way n the wording of the question. The select board also received 61 letters and emails, with 42 supporting the referendum, 17 against and two were neither for or against. Approximately 120 members of the public attended the open forum Aug. 5.

Sally Cook said she did not support the referendum because the information was incomplete. She worried what would become of the old library if a new one was constructed and how much a new library might cost, citing already increasing taxes over the past few years.

Constance Gibbons also opposed holding the referendum and felt like the library committee’s proposal that stipulates that the building must be a minimum of 10,000 square feet and 47 parking spaces is based on “best guesses and a wish list.”

Those who support a new library all expressed the need for more space for books and programs, as well as a fix for the lack of parking at the current site.

Peter Johnson said residents should have an opportunity to vote on the matter.

“We have a rare gift in the [Rockport Elementary School] site that many communities would envy,” Johnson said.

Library Committee Chairman Kathleen Meil said the request for the referendum would allow the committee to fundraise and seek out grants to help finance the project. She said the committee would raise a majority of the money needed for a new library as it has for other library projects over the years.

Explaining to the audience that she was trying to remain neutral and not give an opinion either way on the issue of new construction versus renovation or where a new library might be located, Rep. Joan Welsh, D-Rockport, said she felt the town should send the matter to the voters.

In July 2013, nearly 100 residents attended a meeting at Rockport Opera House to support the notion there is room for expansion at the current location in the village after it was suggested the former RES site might be more suitable.

To that end, in the following November, residents voted to make a change to the Shoreland Zone Overlay District, adding municipal buildings to the acceptable use section of the ordinance. With plans approved by Maine Department of Environmental Protection, renovation or new construction of the public library could take place at its existing location in the harbor village.

In May, the Library Committee endorsed a plan for the construction of a new library on the former RES site at the intersection of routes 1 and 90. A study, funded by a $15,000 grant secured by former library director Molly Larson, was completed and determined RES was the most suitable site as it already is owned by the town.

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Dwight Collins
Dwight Collins is a reporter/photographer for The Camden Herald.
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