Camden Herald Letters to the Editor June 6

Jun 06, 2019

Tax truth

In his Letter to the Editor, Rockport resident Ralph Wallace (“Tax Honesty,” May 30, 2019) incorrectly states that Rockport’s share of the funding for the MSAD 28 and Five Town CSD’s 2019-2020 budgets will result in “...a 13 percent total tax increase on my property.”

The actual increase for Rockport taxpayers is 8 percent. Dr Wallace arrives at a 13 percent increase by improperly adding together the percentage increases to Rockport’s share of the MSAD 28 (11.14 percent) and Five Town CSD (2.10 percent) budgets. This is not how percentages work. The correct value is found by figuring the percentage using the total dollar amounts involved, MSAD 28 and Five Town CSD combined, rather than adding together the separate percentage numbers. For Rockport this is the sum of Rockport’s increases for MSAD 28 ($730,567) and the Five Town CSD ($75,200), divided by Rockport’s combined contribution ($10,136,365) to the 2018-2019 budgets.

Therefore, the correct calculation is ($730,567 + $75,200) / $10,136,365 = 0.0794, which rounds to 8 percent. As the math shows, Rockport’s total contribution to the MSAD 28 and Five Town CSD 2019-2020 budgets will increase by 8 percent over the 2018-2019 budgets. I was not being “a little disingenuous” in reporting an 8 percent increase for Rockport as Dr Wallace writes, but rather being absolutely truthful.

Eight percent is a notable increase for a single year but it is due to a significant extent to the voter-approved financing for the new middle school construction and Mary E. Taylor building renovation projects and not a sign that the school board is indifferent to what is asked of our local communities to support the schools. I urge the residents of Rockport (as well as all the residents of the other Five Towns) to review the 2019 school district annual report that they recently received for more information about the 2019-2020 budgets.

Matthew Dailey
School Board Chairman

Leadership vs management - and what can you do to help?

Dear Camden,

It's been three years since I was elected to serve on the Camden Select Board and on June 11 I will be on the ballot for re-election for another three-year term.

Even though there is no one running against me in this election I thought it only fair to discuss these past three years and what I look forward to in the next three. It would have been easy to join the board and do a fine job of management for the town. As situations came up - make some informed and reasonable decisions and feel good about it. Instead I wanted to look forward and help lead the town into the future. It's a bit more challenging to do that. Change comes hard.

In the past three years tough decisions had to be made which have brought substantial changes to Camden. We have tremendous leadership now in Audra Caler-Bell, our town manager. The team she's put together - which includes exceptional long-term employees and wonderful new hires - gives us, in my view, an extraordinary town staff. One of my priorities was to work on energy conservation and bring Camden to the forefront in the battle against climate change.

I was the first Select Board champion for our first Camden solar farm - located at Sagamore Farms - and now there's a combined effort from the town energy committee (who initiated the idea for the first solar array), Jeremy Martin, our town planner, Audra Caler-Bell and the entire Select Board - to expand Camden's ability to harness the power of the sun and replace our fossil fuel based energy consumption.

In addition - Camden was the first town in Maine to become a member of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy - an international group that is helping cities and towns worldwide combat climate change. Here is the GCoM's goal in their own words: "The cities and partners of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy share a long-term vision of supporting voluntary action to combat climate change. Together, we’re working towards a resilient and low-emission society."

Other objectives I've championed in the past three years include another priority by the town's dedicated Energy committee - replacing our inefficient and expensive street lights with town owned LED lighting which, in addition to reducing our energy use, will help restore dark skies to Camden. With our town's strong Camden Conservation Commission, I've encouraged the elimination of plastic bags and 'styrofoam' / polystyrene containers in our town. The Camden Conservation Commission has also been aggressively working to reduce pollution in the harbor and will be at it again this summer working with the boats that reside in and visit our harbor. I'm delighted with the new show series - "Maine Made Music" & "The Blue Cafe" - at the Camden Opera - as management continues to develop wide-ranging programs that serve all the residents of Camden.

One of the most difficult challenges we face is how to deal with our "dark streets.” The Select Board has received a lot of communication from citizens telling us that often they are the only full-time residents on their street - all the other houses have been purchased by owners that only come to visit at select times during the year and others that have been purchased to be full-time "AirBnB" type short-term rentals. Empty houses and short term rentals that see mostly summer visitors can have a serious impact on the year round livability of our town. With fewer winter residents we risk losing our year-round businesses and long term that will impact the desire for summer visitors to stay here. Having empty homes off the sales market and off the long term rental market also cause a housing shortage that is not easily solved.

One way to work on this is for Camden to have great schools - and it's why I have been such a strong supporter of the new middle school. Camden is known for it's wonderful school system and education standards and that attracts people as full-time residents who bring families and an entrepreneurial spirit to Camden. That creates jobs. But we need housing for those entrepreneurs and employees.

As far as legislation goes - I try to think of positive instead of negative. Instead of saying "No - you can't do that" - I think it's better to say "Yes - you can do that - but here's a better idea." Regarding our housing shortage and our "dark streets" - I've been wondering if we could craft legislation that rewards owners of rental homes for renting long term instead of short term. Lets make it worth their while to help solve our housing crisis. At this point it's a new idea - let's kick it around and see what we come up with.

Lastly - how can you help? Be involved. One person can make a difference. Thanks to Matt Brown - we have our new town event coming up in June that hopefully will become the yearly bookend to the hugely successful Camden International Film Festival that attracts people from all over the world to Camden in the fall. It's "Jazz In June" - a three-day jazz festival over Father's Day weekend - June 14, 15 and 16 - that has something for everyone (a great gift idea for dad). There are events at the Opera House main stage, at the Blue Cafe, a Friday night dance party at the Camden Snow Bowl, an afternoon concert on the hill at the Snowbowl, parties at 40 Paper and 16 Bayview and a show at the library amphitheater. It will be an amazing weekend.

You can get individual tickets or an all-access pass and learn all about the festival at jazzinjunecamdenme.com or at the Facebook page, facebook.com/JazzFestivalMaine. Come one, come all; invite your friends - another example of Camden moving forward.

Thanks for your support

Marc Ratner
Camden Select Board

 

Vigilance as well as compassion at 63 Washington Street

When Midcoast Recovery Coalition inspired donations last winter to convert 63 Washington Street into the first sober house in Camden’s 250-year history, director Ira Mandel presented a menu of “safe housing, supervision, case management, parenting and life skills training, access to child care, transportation, medical and behavioral health care and employment assistance.” He also emphasized “a full-time manager, with experience in residence settings helping women in recovery” who would train a staff to provide “24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week coverage” (Village Soup, Jan. 3, 2019). That was then, this is now.

This month, the first residents arrive (a few women without children), which is why I and several other property owners on Washington Street attended a May 21 meeting with Mr. Mandel. Our questions focused on safety and supervision, zoning regulations and a plan for sustainability. Regrettably, most of his answers amounted to wishful thinking and praise for Camden as a compassionate community. Camden is a compassionate community, but since when are compassion for the needs of recovering addicts and compassion for existing neighbors’ valid concerns mutually exclusive?

On the matter of safety and supervision, Mr. Mandel informed us that instead of 24/7 staff support, as promised, 63 Washington will be staffed from 5 to 9 p.m. only. One can wonder how a “locked door” after 9 p.m., a curfew, and visitor limitations will be enforced during the other 20 hours of the day. This dramatic reduction in support and supervision has many implications, including that residents will be administering their own opiate replacement medications from personal safes in their private rooms. Is this the recovery model donors supported last winter?

Furthermore, this scaled-back version of the MCRC recovery house will now be zoned as a single-family dwelling. While Mr. Mandel appeared casually unconcerned about this issue at the May 21 meeting, single-family zoning is far from inconsequential. If MCRC pursued ‘Rooming House’ or ‘Congregate Housing’ status, either would require a Special Exception allowing the community to weigh in on land-use matters through a formal zoning board process. This would invite community input on signage, parking, lighting, building upkeep, occupancy, privacy screening, and so forth. Without such a process, Camden’s first freestanding recovery residence sets an important zoning precedent throughout all of Camden’s residential neighborhoods for any single-family dwelling to call itself a “sober house” without much ado.

Finally, sustainability calls for an extended financial plan and a reliable source of income. As far as could be determined on May 21, neither exists, though the MCRC has recently been awarded a $5,000 grant. Meanwhile, Mr. Mandel plans to rely on donations from a community already burdened with rising property taxes as major investments in schools proceed, a high-stakes 2020 election year littered with financial appeals and the usual good causes many of us care about and wish to support. The sobering reality of the sober house calls for vigilance as well as compassion. It also calls for better answers to tough questions.

Patti M. Marxsen

Camden

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