Alna hearings conclude on alcohol sales, school choice
Alna’s March 23 referendum questions on alcohol sales drew little talk Monday night and the third, on school choice, drew fewer people than last week but again hours of discussion, with further data questions and a returning question that got a new answer.
Turnout for the final night of hearings at the fire station March 12 was about 70, Town Clerk Liz Brown said. The March 5 discussion drew about 150 and drew more news media.
Petitioners Jon Villeneuve and Alna General Store co-owner Ken Solorzano told Monday’s attendees, the proposed changes to the town’s liquor rules would not change the need for a business to get a state license and follow the state’s rules Solorzano described as strict. Solorzano said if voters agree to on-site liquor consumption as an option for local businesses, in addition to the sales now allowed for off-site consumption, he would seek a “tasting” license that would limit the alcohol served. Solorzano has explained, patrons could have wine or beer with their meals.
In response to an audience question, Villeneuve said he understood serving alcohol comes with a huge safety responsibility. He added, he would need a state license, plus a town business permit and other steps ahead of the hard cider business he is exploring.
The questioner, resident Susan Marcus, explained outside the meeting later, the point she had in mind was by serving alcohol, a business risks loss of tips and future business from customers cut off from drinking. She used to wait tables, so she knows, she said. Marcus said she was still considering her vote on the alcohol referendums but had found no reason to vote against them.
Ruth Jones lives above the Alna General Store and is a longtime patron. “I would think everybody would probably enjoy getting a cold brew when they come in for a great meal at the store,” she said in the hearings.
The other referendum discussed Monday seeks to confine Alna’s K-8 school choice to public schools for children who become Alna residents after this June 30. The language grandfathers those in town by then, retaining the private school option for all those who have taken their first breath by then, said Ralph Hilton, who petitioned for the vote. About two hours into the meeting, Hilton said at the microphone, he didn’t think for all the discussion, anyone had changed their mind.
Opposing the proposal, Lisa Packard said five years from now, she will no longer have school-aged children, but she will still be paying property taxes in Alna, $100,000 of them by the time she retires, and she will pay them with gratitude, she said. She said when she is 75, she hopes to have neighbors with family members who can shovel her driveway and she can serve cookies to.
Resident Ed Pentaleri again presented data from the independent analysis he did at selectmen’s and Hilton’s request. Several speakers, including residents who have publicly opposed the proposed change, continued questioning the numbers. Les Fossel argued Pentalari’s were off and questioned how the information could be trusted.
Pentaleri said he used data he was able to get all the numbers on, rather than aspects where the numbers would have been incomplete, which would have been cherry-picking. “I’m hanging it out there and I think it’s not unreasonable,” he said.
Some speakers thanked him for his work. And resident Brittney Morgan Bardo asked, “At some point, can we stop beating him up and move on?”
Resident Beth Whitney asked Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit 12 board chair Jerry Nault if the proposed grandfathering would stick if the question passes. Last week, Superintendent of Schools Howie Tuttle told attendees the district has not researched the ballot question’s legal strength.
Nault told Whitney Monday, if the question passes and the wording becomes part of the district’s reorganization plan, the district would follow it. “It is what it is,” he said about the proposal. He reiterated in an interview later, if Alna passes the question, that is the proposal the district board will consider taking to a required district-wide vote; however, he said, that would not preclude an outside party from challenging the proposal’s legality.
“We don’t have a dog in the fight,” he said.