French recognized, town budget and sewer treatment plant upgrade passed

By Susan Mustapich | Jun 14, 2018
Photo by: Susan Mustapich John French was celebrated at Town Meeting June 13, as he retires from 21 years of service on the Select Board.

CAMDEN — The annual Town Meeting began with tributes to Select Board chairman John French, who is retiring from his elected position after serving for 21 years, then proceeded quickly through votes of approval for all but one article.

After serving seven consecutive three-year terms, French announced he would not run for reelection in 2017. He followed through by not taking out nomination papers in spring 2018. However, before the meeting was over, he was nominated to a two-year term on the budget committee, and accepted.

The annual meeting in the Opera House auditorium began with French's presentation of the dedication of the 2018 Annual Report of the town of Camden to Beede Parker "Camden's best known naturalist and social and environmental activist."

Next, French was honored from the podium with a plaque commemorating his service, which will hang on the wall in the town office, an original portrait, and a check from many individuals in the community who hope he and his family will use the money to do something fun.

State Senator Dave Miramant read a proclamation from the 128th Legislature, and the people of the State of Maine, recognizing French for his long and dedicated service. Then Board member Marc Ratner announced that the board intends to rename the meeting room on Washington Street, the John French Conference Room, saying no one had spent more time there than French.

French received the gifts with hugs and smiles, and applause and standing ovations from an audience including his family members filling the two front rows, and registered voters. When he spoke about the conference room, he asked that it not be named for him, but instead for Leonard Lookner, who gave so much of himself to the town. Board members smiled, but remained silent on that request.

Municipal budget

Voters approved the Select Board-recommended budget totaling $9,010,091 for 2018-19 (Article 19). The budget committee recommended $8,947,091. Questions centered around explanations for differences in Budget Committee and Select Board recommendations on leisure service and debt/capital/contingency lines. Finance Director Jodi Hansen explained that the Select Board added funds to leisure services for additional grounds maintenance at the towns many parks, and for a new roof on the Laite Beach restroom building. The board added $25,000 to debt/capital/contingency to cover future operational losses due to weather at the Snow Bowl and $45,000 for Opera House building work, including future maintenance needs.

Voters approved the use of $3,120,658 from non-property tax revenues to offset the $9 million in municipal spending (Article 18). This reduces the amount to be raised by local property taxes to $5.89 million.

Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell reported in a special Town Meeting Newsletter, that the $5.89 million in spending is an increase of less than 1 percent over 2017-18, and the impact of the 2018-19 municipal budget on local property taxes will be an increase of 0.7 percent.

Wastewater treatment plant upgrade

Voters authorized the Select Board to bond $13.9 million for an upgrade of the wastewater treatment plant (Article 14). Much of the plant's equipment is 50 years old. Electrical and mechanical systems and components are obsolete, and parts required to fix them are no longer carried by manufacturers. The plant will be upgraded to operate more efficiently, autonomously and comply with safety and codes. The project includes upgrades to the Washington Street and Norumbega Drive pump stations and replacement of a sewer main on Sea Street.

Ray Andreson asked about the impact on taxes. Caler-Bell said the tax impact is estimated to be 54 cents per $1,000 of property valuation. The 2017 mil rate was $14.38.

Caler-Bell said the town hopes to obtain USDA Rural Development funding, including grant money that could lower the amount that needs to be borrowed.

Seabright Dam

Bonding up to $310,000 was approved by voters for a major repair to a leak beneath Seabright Dam and for replacement of storm water infrastructure on Bay View Street (Article 15).

Since 2016, over 130 residents living along a section of the Megunticook River have asked town officials to investigate and repair a leak in the Seabright Dam, which significantly lowered water levels in a section of the river. In 2017, divers were hired to locate the leak. The leak was plugged with material as a temporary measure, which successfully raised the water level. The long-term repair involves creating a watertight enclosure around the area of the leak.

Brian Robinson asked if the repair would hinder migratory fish from going upstream, if fish passage is restored along the Megunticook River in the future.

Board member Alison McKellar explained that fish passage would most likely be near the sluiceway near the top of the dam, while the repair is beneath the dam.

Downtown improvements

Voters approved the use of $310,000 in existing Tax Increment Financing revenues, collected from the Downtown TIF District, to offset costs of pedestrian improvements along Main and Elm Streets, the lease of parking lots at Knox Mill and Knowlton Street, and engineering work for the boardwalk at the Public Landing. (Article 17).

Caler-Bell explained that the five-way intersection where Elm Street becomes Main Street is targeted for improvements to pedestrian safety. The funds will also be used for the harbor walkway and sidewalk near the Stop N Go store and gas station.

The parking lots to be leased are located behind the Knox Mill. The lease and changes to the parking ordinance will go before voters in November, according to Caler-Bell.

Voters reject discontinuance of portion of Arey Avenue

Anita Brosius-Scott researched the history of the area to be discontinued, and said it is in the area of a subdivision of relatively small lots, which have either not been developed, or have been combined with existing lots that have been developed. She urged residents to vote against the discontinuance, which would block public access to the area, and to further discuss the issue of giving away any public lands.

Cindy Lampley spoke about walking there with her dog and how it was a beautiful area.

Town Attorney Bill Kelly was asked to provide further information. Kelly said the land under the right-of-way is not owned by the town, and if the discontinuance was approved, it would not prevent future private owners of lots from using the discontinued portion of Arey Avenue.

French said that he wished Brosius-Scott had raised her objections during a public hearing the Select Board held on the matter.

Town clerk Katrina Oakes was asked by moderator Deb Dodge to count a close vote on discontinuing a portion of Arey Avenue that abuts the northwest boundary, the Eaton Avenue public right-of-way. Oakes first counted the votes in favor, and then against, and Dodge declared, the "nays" have it.

Transition to new board

After Town Meeting adjourned, Dodge performed the swearing-in of Select Board members Jenna Lookner and Taylor Benzie, for their new three-year terms.

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