Originally published in The Weekly Packet, April 11, 2019
Blue Hill approves town administrator, $9.36 million in requests
Dow wins selectman’s race
Retiring Selectman Jim Schatz, left, and Road Commissioner Bill Cousins chat during ballot voting at Blue Hill town meeting April 6 at Blue Hill Consolidated School.
by Anne Berleant
Voters handily approved articles funding municipal and school budgets to the tune of $9.36 million, swore in a new selectman, and gave retiring Selectman Jim Schatz a standing ovation at town meeting April 6.
An April 5 election and referendum approved hiring a town administrator and selected Jim Dow, 464-335, over Adam Gray to serve on the board of selectmen. Ballot clerks worked into the night announcing the hand-counted results just after 11 p.m.
On Saturday the approximately 125 citizens filling chairs and bleachers at the school gym found fault with only one request, $41,000 for broadband on a 51-house stretch of Pleasant Street. As negotiated between selectmen and Charter Communications, the cable company would contribute an equal amount, with the project contingent on an $82,000 grant from Connect-ME Authority.
“I’m all for broadband in Blue Hill but this is not the way to do it,” said Butler Smythe, local activist for faster and far-reaching broadband on the Peninsula. “The money could be better spent.”
Voters disliked nearly everything about the proposal: that it tied the town to Charter, that many houses beyond the 4.4 mile stretch were too far from the main road for free hook up, and that other areas, like Range Road and portions of East Blue Hill, are still without broadband service.
“I’m concerned that this is cherry picking by commercial entities,” Clifton Page said.
Residents spoke of children unable to do homework at home in an age when “internet [connection] is like water or electricity, it is a basic need,” Beth Dickens said.
“These things happen incrementally,” Schatz said in defense of the request.
Selectman Vaughn Leach agreed: “We thought this was a small amount of money…to reach out to some people.”
Generating the most discussion of the 87 articles, the request was struck down in a 50-yea, 72-nay hand vote.
Voters had no stutters in approving $350,000 from Undesignated Funds to repave the school parking lot or to keep the selectmen wage rate at $12 an hour, with health insurance benefits. However, in a prepared statement, the budget committee recommended that in 2020 the town discontinue its contribution to part-time town employees’ health insurance, in light of the added expense of a town administrator. The three selectmen and road commissioner positions are part-time.
The municipal budget came in at $2.86 million, including $7,500 for a town hall building assessment by Surry engineer Andrew McCullough, hired for his “ongoing relationship with the Code Enforcement Officer,” Schatz said when questioned. “The bid process is not mandated for an item of this cost.”
All third-party nonprofit requests were approved, with the understanding that the process for such requests getting on the warrant would be reviewed.
Superintendent Mark Hurvitt outlined the education articles while Principal Shelly Schildroth highlighted the school renovation project, including the first “Fab Lab” in the state, and partnerships with community organizations.
A 2019-20 school budget of $6,073,365, an increase of about $170,000, was approved in 15 articles, with the higher costs attributed to more high school students.
“[The state funding model] is set up for larger schools,” Hurvitt explained, noting that over 80 percent of Maine schools spend more than the state’s calculation.
This was Schatz’s 24th and final town meeting, and he recalled when Amazon was a river in South America and he had a doctor instead of a provider: “I have seen a lot of changes, have been blessed with a lot of friendships,” he said.
√ Jim Dow-464
√ Henrietta Clews-684
√ Janis Snow-679
Yes 520, No 207
$4 million bond to improve town roads: Yes 673, No 114.
√ Denotes election winner