Alna nods dam change, fireworks rules, reval

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Saturday, March 18, 2017 - 2:15pm
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Former Alna selectman Paul Lazarus speaks in favor of fireworks rules, during the annual town meeting at the fire station March 18. SUSAN JOHNS/Wiscasset Newspaper

Alna’s Head Tide Dam is headed for a free fix-up if selectmen seal the deal with the Atlantic Salmon Federation; fireworks use now has local rules; and all properties are headed for a revaluation this year or next.

Residents turning out at the fire station Saturday passed all those proposals and, according to figures First Selectman David Abbott provided, a $720,957 town budget, up about $48,000 from 2016. The tab doesn’t count the school or county budgets still to come. If those stayed flat, the higher municipal budget would hike the next year’s taxes about 67 cents per thousand dollars of assessed valuation, or about $67 on a $100,000 home, Abbott said.

Voters rejected nothing Saturday. In their only sway from the proposed budget, residents went higher by $300. They gave the Head Tide Church Committee $500 instead of the $200 it sought.

The fireworks rules were two years in the making and the idea dates to resident Paul Lazarus' request to selectmen years earlier. On Saturday, Lazarus and others thanked the planning board for drafting the ordinance. The board looked at rules other towns and the state have, and took residents’ input at hearings. Member Beth Whitney said the board learned some people hadn’t been good neighbors making their plans known ahead of time. She asked people to do that, whether the ordinance passed or not.

It did, 43-21 in a written ballot. Les Fossel, describing himself as a recovering legislator, recommended the ballot vote based on the issue’s contentiousness he witnessed before the state lifted its longtime ban on consumer fireworks sales.

No one spoke against the ordinance. Longtime farrier Fred Bowers said some of his customers’ horses elsewhere have been carelessly or maliciously “terrorized” by fireworks users and he said he knew of one instance in Alna. He and Lazarus cited fire safety as a reason for rules. A kid with a firecracker started the 1866 Portland fire that left 18,000 homeless, Bowers said.

Bowers suggested saving town officials some work by letting a permit run a year unless suspended; moderator Carl Pease said an ordinance has to be voted on as-is; any amendments would take another town meeting.

The dam question, to let selectmen negotiate a contract with ASF, passed in a show of hands. Two hands went up in opposition. Ralph Hilton, who served on a selectmen-appointed committee that worked with ASF, said the work will make the walk down the banking safer, aid fish passage and follow the deed covenant to never destroy the dam. “We’re preserving the dam, which will make it last even longer.”

The century-old concrete dam on the Sheepscot River has a popular swimming hole next to it. Mary Bowers takes her grandchildren there. She asked if it would still be there. It will, because it’s a low draining point, where water goes even in a dry time, Hilton said. The project the committee, selectmen and ASF supported would replace the abutment nearest Head Tide Road. ASF has said from the start, the work will cost the town nothing. At a selectmen’s meeting  March 15, Baston suggested the board call for the contract to have ASF cover any of the town’s legal costs to negotiate it.

Another hand vote gave selectmen the town-wide revaluation they requested. They predicted high-end properties would go up in value and mid-range properties probably change little. Third Selectman Doug Baston told the meeting, values are considerably out of wack, with one property selling for $153,000 more than the town valued it at. “That’s like having a $153,000 house not on the tax rolls. That’s unfair ... We need to do this to make sure everyone bears the right amount.”

Hilton said the town is so far off the valuation the state says it should have, the homestead exemption has gone from $15,000 to $12,900; valuation also ties into other state aid, he added.

Voters authorized adding as much as $20,000 to the $49,133 the town has saved up for a revaluation. The job may not take that much, selectmen said. Abbott said the town’s assessing agent John E. O’Donnell and Associates anticipates it would cost about $60,000, but the firm wouldn’t be able to do it until 2018. Board members said they may look at other firms to see how much it would cost and possibly get it done this year. “The sooner, the better,” Baston said.

Voters passed $19,271 in contributions to 15 nonprofits, without debate; and with little debate agreed to pay $5,857 to give firefighters life insurance. Assistant Fire Chief Roger Whitney said it’s an incentive for people to join and stay on the department. The average age is about 51, and if the roster doesn’t grow from its current count of 21, in about 10 years there will about six, he said.

A proposed $10,000 to extend the Alna Cemetery’s road and do other work there passed after one of the longest discussions of the 90-plus minute meeting. Some questioned why the trust couldn’t be tapped instead. Others said it was their understanding, the intent has been to make the trust self-sustaining, so interest from it could reduce the need for town funding. The road will go into land that has been added to expand the cemetery, Hilton said.

At the polls Friday, voters reelected Baston, Second Selectman Melissa Spinney and Road Commissioner Jeff Verney, all unopposed on the ballot; and elected write-in candidate Spencer Bailey to represent Alna on Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit 12’s board. No one was on the ballot for the seat. During Saturday’s open town meeting, voters picked Mike Trask as a cemetery trustee.