Rockport citizens pass all town meeting articles

By Louis Bettcher | Jun 14, 2018
Source: Livestream Rockport residents vote during the town meeting on June 13.

Rockport — Rockport residents voted in favor of all warrant articles at the annual town meeting on June 13. No amendments were made to any of the 22 articles, which included approving the budgets for public safety, public works and culture and recreation in the 2018-19 fiscal year.

The budget for public safety is $1.67 million. The budget for public works is $1.9 million and the budget for culture and recreation is $675,000. Other voter-approved spending includes $98,500 for county emergency and dispatch services and appropriating $2 million from municipal departments to be used in reducing the property tax assessment for the 2018-19 year.

This year's meeting was moderated by Bob Duke and attended by approximately 47 residents -- a low turn-out compared to the previous year. Nonetheless, the citizens asked a number of questions of Select Board members and Town Manager Rick Bates before articles were voted on.

The article which received the most public comment and scrutiny was Article 19, which asked voters to appropriate $3,500 to provider agencies for the 2018-19 fiscal year; some citizens suggested that more money should been allocated to the provider agencies. The article had been recommended by all four Select Board members, but two of the eight Budget Committee members had voted against the article prior to the town meeting.

"For myself only, I am so sorry to the provider agencies that we couldn't do better for them, they deserve it" said Heaven Bartlett, who serves on the Budget Committee.

Selectman Doug Cole said that the amount allocated to provider agencies had been a topic of contentious discussion at previous meetings, before the Select Board made their decision.

"I realize that various options have been tried in the past to show the town's generosity, but again it's really my feeling that it is up to the individual taxpayer to make a decision where to give their charitable funds. It's not up to the Select Board or the Budget Committee to be making those decisions for the taxpayers. Again, that's my personal opinion," said Cole.

"Mr. Moderator, I would like to remind the Select Board that part of their title is 'Overseers of the Poor,' and it is through the provider agencies that we provide assistance to the poor of our community," said Bill Chapman, who had previously served as a Selectman.

Selectman Owen Casas said that he didn't feel as if the allocation was arbitrary, and that provider agencies are required to come before the Budget Committee, field questions and describe the assistance they seek. He said that there is a solid vetting process which ensures that each of the agencies get some money. Both Casas and Cole pointed out that the town's General Assistance fund also provides for citizens in need.

"The decision to reduce it to $3,500 was totally arbitrary. We were led to believe by the Select Board that there would be about $10,000 or $11,000 in the budget and that's what the Budget Committee used as a benchmark. And that's not what happened, but we just end up looking cheap," said Budget Committee member Tom Murphy.

As the Select Board responded to the comments, Murphy, who had returned to his seat, interjected from the audience but did not return to the microphone to make his comment audible to the room.

No citizens proposed amending the article and it passed by a majority -- only three members of the public opposed the article.

Voters approved setting Oct. 15, 2018 and April 16, 2019 as tax installment due dates, and placing a 7 percent interest rate on delinquent taxes. They also authorized the Select Board to enter into boundary line agreements with abutting property owners to establish lines for any property of the town, and sell or dispose of any real estate acquired by the town for non-payment of taxes or wastewater fees.

At the end of the meeting Bates took a moment to thank outgoing Selectman Casas for his time served on the board, and presented him with a framed photograph by Peter Ralston. Casas represents District 94 which includes Camden, Rockport and Islesboro, in the Maine House of Representatives.

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