Originally published in Castine Patriot, March 6, 2014
After much debate, Penobscot approves municipal, school budgets
Town Clerk Mary Ellen Gross and moderator Sherm Hutchins prepare for Penobscot town meeting on March 4.
by Anne Berleant
About 65 citizens scrutinized, questioned and commented on nearly each warrant article when town meeting reconvened on March 4, after elections on March 3.
The only truly controversial actions were motions to allow a hand vote on articles to raise additional local funds instead of using written ballots.
“All towns do it written,” said moderator Sherm Hutchins. “We could be challenged. I think we’d win.”
According to the state law governing the municipal property tax levy (Title 30-A, § 5721-A (7): “the municipal budget is adopted by town meeting or by referendum, the property tax levy limit may be exceeded by the same process that applies to adoption of the municipal budget except that the vote must be by written ballot on a separate article that specifically identifies the intent to exceed the property tax levy limit.”
A municipal budget of just over $500,000 ultimately passed, as did a school budget of $1,683,416, with the majority voting against the finance committee’s recommendations, when a higher amount was sought by the school board.
This provided a second day of technical services for the school at a cost of $5,000—“Audrey [Means, of the finance committee] said this technology thing would end up costing us a lot…and she was right,” said Principal Allen Cole—and a two-week summer literacy camp, costing $3,300.
“You pay now or you pay later,” observed one citizen in favor of spending on education.
Voters also approved the full $3,600 requested by the Blue Hill Public Library, which was reduced to $1,000 last year after lengthy debate.
“It’s a non-vital service…It does not benefit all taxpayers,” argued Chairman of Board of Selectman Paul Bowen. “Where do we draw the line?”
But several citizens spoke in favor of approving the full request, which passed with a 33-27 vote.
“There are things worth paying for,” said one citizen, echoing the majority sentiment. “I don’t think it’s a luxury.”
In a turnaround from last year, voters also approved $1,000 for Penobscot Day festivities after a brief discussion.
Lin Parker, on behalf of Fire Chief Dennis Robertson, said that if the money was not approved, the fire department would not hold the traditional July celebration.
“If we can’t spend $1,000 on community, it’s a sad day,” said Carolyn Blodgett.
Voters overwhelmingly approved $15,000 for the school bus reserve account and $25,000 for the fire truck reserve account.
“We have the oldest fire trucks in the world,” said Parker.
Also approved was selling the old firehouse, despite questions on whether the 100x80 foot lot was buildable (with no septic system or well) and whether, as an historical building, it should be offered to the Penobscot Historical Society.
At one time, the firehouse was the Penobscot school house.
“[The historical society] already has one school house,” someone called out to general laughter.
The building could be sold to the society for $1, noted Bowen.
Raising much ire was the cost of teachers’ Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield Choice Plus health insurance plan—$18,000 for a family, of which the town pays 80 percent.
“Can we presume that is like a Cadillac policy?” asked Bowen. “That is extremely high…compared to anything the rest of us have.”
Teachers’ health insurance is part of a negotiated contract, which ends this year.
“We’ll have options the next time we negotiate,” said Superintendent Mark Hurvitt.
In election results, Selectman Stanley Shorey received 53 votes to begin his eighth three-year term; Anne Hayes-Grillo was re-elected to a third three-year term on the school committee with the same vote count, and Mary Ellen Gross was re-elected as town clerk, a two-year-term, with 56 votes. All ran uncontested.