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Thomaston Green task force on hold

By Christine Simmonds | Feb 23, 2021
Photo by: Christine Simmonds The Thomaston Select Board meets Feb. 22 via Zoom.

Thomaston — The Thomaston Select Board voted Feb. 22 to put the Thomaston Green task force on hold until after the annual town meeting in June.

This means members of the task force will not be selected until that time.

Board member Zel Bowman-Laberge, who has been charged with assembling the task force, said putting it on hold allows the town to vote on a budget for it and allows time for the COVID-19 virus to pass or enough people to be vaccinated that in-person meetings can take place.

“We want to have the resources to really do the project justice,” Bowman-Laberge said. She said having finances would be very important, as it would allow the task force to move forward on issues once they had been decided.

Several residents voiced disagreement with this proposal and wanted to form the committee right away and begin meeting.

Chris Crosman said he did not see why the task force could not be formed at this point. This way the group could help create the budget for the task force, and any extra expenses could be added to the June vote.

Bowman-Laberge said most committees do not meet until they have a budget.

Board member Diane Giese said the money would not be used to hire anyone until the task force began to meet.

Having a budget for the committee would allow the committee to hold public meetings and hire a moderator to direct the conversation, and hire architects once the task force came up with ideas for the space, Giese said.

Giese said waiting would also allow residents to learn more about the history of the Thomaston Green and the directive of the task force.

Town Manager Kara George said June was only four months away and at the September vote, Thomaston residents indicated they felt the matter was rushed and they needed more time.

Noreen Mullaney said she did not understand why this was being put on hold. The town asked people to apply for the task force, and people were at the meeting expecting the members of the task force be appointed.

Select Board member Bill Hahn said holding meetings to discuss the future of the Thomaston Green should involve a mediator to assist in the conversation, and those were expensive.

Avi Ragaven expressed concern that the budget would not be passed by the voters.

Joanne Richards, who is a member of the budget committee, said the money for the task force would be “buried in the budget. At the town meeting, voters pass the budget in large parts, not each individual line item.

Board member Sandy Moore said this did not mean any item in the budget is a secret. All budget committee meetings are open the public, and Moore encouraged residents to attend the meetings and learn more about the process.

Charlie Grover said the direction of the current discussion indicated a moderator was needed to help direct the conversation and address the concerns of all residents.

“That is one of the major expenses we will be funding,” Grover said. “So when we get together we can walk away with a plan and a strategy that we can bring to the voters.”

Bowman-Laberge introduced the directive for the task force at the last board meeting.

Part of the directive is to “gain feedback from the community through public meetings, study potential future uses of the Thomaston Green and summarize a recommendation to the Select Board.”

The full directive, as well as primary documents related to the history of the space, are being uploaded to a section of the town website. This will allow residents to learn more about the Green and previous votes on the issue.

In other business, the board held a public hearing for an upcoming special town meeting.

The town meeting vote is to establish a solid waste facility reserve account from money received from the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company in 2017.

Ragaven asked the board for clarification on what the vote actually meant.

Board Chair Pete Lammert explained that Thomaston formerly done business with Penobscot Energy Recovery Company to remove trash from the transfer station.

When the town voted to stop doing business with the company, they were refunded $363,440.

Lammert said the board planned to place the money in a reserve account to pay for upcoming renovations to the Owls Head, South Thomaston and Thomaston Solid Waste Co-Operative Transfer Station.

Bowman-Laberge said the board thought the money was already in such an account. Upon discovering it was not, they scheduled a town meeting to vote on the matter.

“It was an oversight,” Bowman-Laberge said.

Ragaven asked if the money could be used for other purposes if the vote did not pass.

Bowman-Laberge said the funds were not really extra money, but instead refunded money that voters already approved for solid waste removal in the past.

Also part of the article being voted on at the special town meeting is the approval of $48,578 for the purchase of a new compacter for the transfer station. The board voted to spend this money on a new compacter before realizing the funds were not placed in a reserve account.

This leaves $314,862 plus interest for the solid waste facility reserve account.

Creating a reserve account allows the select board to spend the funds on the transfer station without needing voter approval for each individual purchase.

The board is only allowed to use funds from a reserve account for the purpose specifically outlined by the voters when it is created. In this case, that would be the transfer station.

The town meeting will be held Wednesday, March 3 at 6 p.m. in the multipurpose room at the Thomaston Municipal Building.

George also told the board that the town office had hired a new deputy town clerk and deputy tax collector, who will be starting March 1. George said she was very excited for the town office to be fully staffed again.

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