Alna eyes alcohol votes

Town office vote still in play; change in public comment permitted at board meetings
Posted:  Thursday, February 15, 2018 - 8:30am

Two petitions the Alna General Store’s co-owner and a former selectman turned in could have voters considering expanding the town’s alcohol rules. Selectmen told store co-owner Ken Solorzano and fellow resident Jon Villeneuve Feb. 14, they will try to get the questions ready for binding votes at next month’s town meeting.

Villeneuve said the proposals stem from an 1830s law and may require secret ballot voting, either at the polls March 23 or the open town meeting March 24. He said he and Solorzano would like the votes to count so, if passed, the changes could take effect this year. The proposals would move Alna from allowing alcohol sales for consumption off a business’s premises, to also allowing it on-premises. State liquor license rules would apply, the two men said.

Solorzano, who owns the store with wife Jane, said if the town expands the rules, he would seek a state license allowing limited alcohol consumption on-site. Someone could have beer or wine with their meal, but not keep ordering one drink after another as they could at a bar, he explained.

Villeneuve said he has been looking at possibly having a business as a hard cider maker. Most of Alna’s neighbors including Wiscasset have adopted the local option to allow on-site consumption, he said.

Town Clerk Liz Brown said both petitions had enough valid signatures – 66 for the one seeking a question to allow on-site consumption on Sundays and 72 for the one regarding the rest of the week. Selectmen accepted the petitions 3-0 and were optimistic they could get the questions to voters. Brown said if the questions are going on the March 23 ballot, she would need them soon due to absentee voting requirements.

“So we have to find this out pronto,” Third Selectman Doug Baston said about the steps toward making the votes legal. Villeneuve suggested Brown check with towns that have done it.

Also Feb.14, Second Selectman Melissa Spinney read a minutes-long statement explaining that, until town meeting, public comment at the board’s meetings would be limited to items on the agenda. According to the statement, the change stems from the tone of recent discussions on school choice. “(It) has moved toward harassment and sarcasm ... The three of us have been accused publicly of lying, ‘fear-mongering,’ causing community discord, as well as violating the law and the US Constitution. We face weekly Freedom of Access requests for mounds of irrelevant documents. Out of the meetings, on social media, our town has been compared to Mayberry, and we have been compared to Barney Fife.

“This is unacceptable,” Spinney continued. “Enough is enough. Starting with this evening, we have agreed, reluctantly, to have no public comment period, unless it pertains to an agenda item, until after town meeting. We need to focus on the business of running this town. It is not all about school choice. There are roads to plow, buildings to maintain and we have a town meeting to prepare for.” Voters face a March 23 referendum to remove private schools as an option for publicly funded kindergarten through grade eight school choice for children who become Alna residents after June 30. If the change passes locally, it would then face Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit 12 approval.

Resident and Fire Chief Mike Trask asked who dreamed up the public comment change without it being discussed at a prior meeting. The other board members said it was Spinney’s statement and they supported it. Then the three voted unanimously to accept it.

On another town meeting topic, Baston remained optimistic there will be a vote on the town office’s future. After an informational meeting Feb. 12, the board is gathering more information. Baston said a State Fire Marshal’s office staff member told him a new town office is cheaper and easier than renovation, and if the renovation is thorough, the town would need to make the building Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant. Depending on what question is posed at town meeting, a special town meeting might be needed later to authorize spending, Baston said.

Resident Ralph Hilton said he couldn’t get to the Feb. 12 meeting, but in his opinion, the town should give the cape away to get it off the town’s land. Resident Chris Cooper recommended selling it without any fixes. Prepare flowers and muffins, use disinfectant, and take what the town can get, be it $40,000, $60,000, $80,000, or something more, Cooper said.

Selectmen discussed making their buildings maintenance budget request large enough to include some repairs to the cape. Hilton suggested they contact Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset for free labor from inmates. The work helps inmates gain skills, he added. “They might learn something that will keep them out of jail.”

“I hate to admit it, Ralph, but that was a good idea,” First Selectman David Abbott said, prompting laughter around the room.

Selectmen unanimously added three years to David Sutter’s alewives harvesting contract. His latest three-year one had two years to go, so now it will be good for the next five years, selectmen and Sutter said.

Trask voiced concern about holes and other items he said he observed at the town’s salt and sand shed, including an outlet he said had no cover. “If some kid goes down there and gets electrocuted, we’re going to be responsible for it,” he said. Selectmen said they will view the shed, address the outlet and then inspect the shed each fall and spring.

In response to a board question, Trask said he expects his proposed fire department budget will be up this year due to the number of calls the department responded to in the past year.

The board meets next at 6 p.m. Feb. 28 at the town office.