Rockport Town Meeting 2018: Citizens approve all articles, elect new board chairman

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 10:15pm

ROCKPORT — Rockport citizens voted to approve all of the 22 warrant articles at the 2018 annual Town Meeting June 13 at the Rockport Opera House.

Moderator Robert Duke led the proceedings, with approximately 30 residents in attendance, about half of the turnout from last year. Owen Casas, who was participating in his final Select Board meeting, replaced Chairman Ken McKinley, who was out of town, at the helm.   

Before the business portion of the meeting commenced, Duke recognized Rockport Town Clerk Linda Greenlaw for her “yeoman’s job” of handling the June 12 elections with 1,079 voters, including the absentee ballots, the day after a special school board hearing and vote.

The largest warrant articles in the budget approved by voters included $1.9 million for public works, $1.67 million for public safety, and $675,000 for culture and recreation, along with appropriating $2 million from municipal departments to be used in reducing residents’ property tax assessments for 2018-2019.

The expenditure receiving the most public comment and criticism was Warrant Article 19, which asked voters to appropriate $3,500 to provider agencies for the 2018-2019 budget year.

Heaven Bartlett, who serves on the Budget Committee, was the first citizen to express her opinion about the allocation.

“For myself only, I am so sorry to the provider agencies that we couldn’t do any better for them,” she said. “They deserve it.”

Select Board member Doug Cole acknowledged that the amount of funds to be allocated to provider agencies had been a contentious discussion at previous meetings.

“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,” said Cole. “It’s not up to the Select Board of the Budget Committee to be making those decisions for the taxpayers. Again, that’s my personal opinion.”

Former Select Board Chairman Bill Chapman spoke next.

“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 Chapman.

Casas responded by stating that he didn’t feel that the allocation was arbitrary and that provider agencies are required to come before the Budget Committee to provide an overview of the assistance they are seeking. He added that there is a solid process in place to ensure that each of the agencies get some money.

Casas and Cole pointed out that Rockport’s General Assistance fund is available to provide funds for citizens requiring help.

Budget Committee member Tom Murphy was the final citizen to approach the microphone about the warrant article.

“The decision to reduce it to $3,500 was totally arbitrary,” he said. “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,” said Murphy. “And that’s not what happened and we end up looking cheap.”

Duke then called the vote and the article passed with three citizens opposing.

At the conclusion of the public portion of the meeting, Town Manager Rick Bates thanked outgoing member Casas for serving three years on the Select Board and presented him with a framed photograph by Rockport photographer Peter Ralston.

Following the town meeting, recently elected Select Board members Debra Hall and Jeff Hamilton were sworn in by Rockport Town Clerk Linda Greenlaw. The Select Board met on the stage and elected a chairman and vice chairman. Cole was unanimously elected as the chairman and McKinley was also unanimously elected as vice chairman.

They then talked about setting a date soon for a Select Board goal-setting workshop, which has to be held before August 31. Cole asked the board to develop two individual personal goals and four to five goals for the town manager to be discussed at the workshop.

Mark Kelley was elected to be the authorized representative to sign warrants to distribute funds. Debra Hall was elected to serve as the alternate.

Cole requested that they consider their preferences for Select Board liaison committee assignments, as non-voting members, since this topic will be included in the agenda for the next meeting.

He reminded the board of the Maine Open Meeting Law with regard to discussions with fellow select board members outside of scheduled, public meetings.

According to Greenlaw, if three members of a five member select board are discussing town business then that would be considered a quorum and would have to be open to the public.

The Rockport Select Board will meet Monday, June 25, at 7 p.m., at the Geoffrey C. Parker Meeting Room in the lower level of the Rockport Opera House.

Reach Sarah Shepherd at news@penbaypilot.com