Storm spurs look at town office emergency planning, records’ protection
Alna property owners are getting extra time to pay their taxes without interest, since the Oct. 29-30 storm knocked out power and left the town office unable to take payments, town officials said.
Town Clerk Liz Brown said taxes had been due Oct. 28, and the town office’s next business day, Oct. 31, would have been the last interest-free day to pay. But due to the loss of power, no one could pay, and the office didn’t get power back until late Friday morning, Brown said.
Taxpayers now have an interest-free extension through Nov. 17, selectmen said. The decision followed a discussion with resident Ed Pentaleri about how the town could better prepare to stay in business when the lights go out and make sure power losses or other emergencies don’t lead to bigger problems like lost records.
A loss of financial records would be painful, said Pentaleri, who one day earlier received a Spirit of America award for his volunteer service to the town. Regarding town records, he said, the board needs to be asking, “How do we secure them so nothing bad happens to them.”
Selectmen said they will look at getting a generator, which Third Selectman Doug Baston estimated at $1,000. Pentaleri suggested Lincoln County Administrator Carrie Kipfer might have ideas on protecting records from loss in emergencies. In addition, Baston said he would ask Maine Municipal Association. He and Pentaleri said since MMA insures the town, the organization would want to help. Baston said the town office vault has records dating to the town’s incorporation and its door is not fireproof.
“It’s still interesting just to open a book from 1794 and see what the three people who sat here before we did,” Baston said.
Selectmen agreed to send letters of thanks to out-of-state firms whose crews restored Alna’s power.
Also Nov. 8, Alna parents continued to ask about the school choice the town has for kindergarten through high school, compared to most Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit 12 towns’ choice for high school only.
Shanon Cotta, who has two children at the Center for Teaching and Learning in Edgecomb, told the board he has lived in Alna 13 years, he feels the board does a fantastic job, he appreciates the many hours they put into their work for the town, and he strongly supports school choice. He asked selectmen how the town verifies a student lives in town. Families show a student’s residency via a homestead exemption or rental agreement, parents’ signatures, a divorce decree if there is one, and, if so, information on who has custody, selectmen said.
Responding to further questions from Cotta and fellow Alna parents Anne Simpson and Trish Puhalski, selectmen reiterated past points that school choice is attracting more families than the tax base can support, because, they said, the town’s education tab, based on student count, exceeds the tax revenue new families add.
Higher taxes could cost the town its diversity in income levels, selectmen said. “I can pay my taxes even if they went up a couple thousand dollars,” First Selectman David Abbott said. “But there’s people in town struggling to even get enough food and pay their taxes and utilities.”
Selectmen again expressed support for pulling private schools as an option the town pays for, if citizens propose the change via petition and if it wouldn’t apply to children even a day old, living in Alna when it takes effect. The change would take a town vote and votes from the district board and district residents, Baston said.
Second Selectman Melissa Spinney said, “We’re not saying (subsequent residents) can’t go (to a private school). You just have to pay for it like everyone else does” in other towns, she said.
Selectmen meet next at 6 p.m. Nov. 22 at the town office.