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Notes from Public Hearing - June 9, 2005 (Draft)

In attendance were: Selectmen Jo Cooper, Richard Fennelly Jr. , Cynthia Donaldson, Perry Fowler, Brett Jones; Administrative Assistant Stu Marckoon, George & Carol Smith, Dennis Ford, Donna Theall, Carol Korty, Dale Macurdy, Henry Ashmore, Lance Landon, Franco Colella, Linwood & Yvonne Brann, David Henry, Wendi Meyer, Ruth Saliba, Hubene Brodie, Joseph Young Jr., Robert Schust, Michael Garrett, Chris Bowman (CTV Camera operator), Dan Bahr (County Ambulance)

Selectman Chair Jo Cooper opened the hearing at 7:00 PM at the Lamoine Consolidated School Gym. She asked Administrative Assistant Stu Marckoon to display a Power Point presentation that explained LD-1 (see separate printout). The presentation took approximately 20-minutes.

Donna Theall asked if the power point presentation was on the town website. Stu said he could do that. Dennis Ford asked if this takes care of 2005/06, is it a band-aid for that year, or does it set the wheels in motion for years to come. Richard Fennelly said if the town does not exceed spending at any higher level than is cut to here, the town would be OK. Jo said this could be a stop-gap measure. She said the town is responding to a crisis in that it can't have an illegal tax commitment. She said there has been no planning for these cuts. She said the original budget was well thought out by the budget committee. She said she would personally want some planning involved in future budgeting. She said perhaps the town might not want what's proposed to be eliminated.

Richard said Dennis asked whether if the town doesn't exceed the same level, would there be a problem. Richard said the answer was no, but it's not a good place to be. He said the Selectmen did the best they could do in a difficult situation. Brett said it is a stop-gap, and it's unrealistic to expect that the dollars we need this year will be the same as future years. He said the town needs to vote to approve the dollar figures needed. He said it's not realistic to expect the town to have a zero municipal tax commitment every year.

Brett said the items cannot be carried over as some of the proposed cuts are public safety issues. He said if the town wants ambulance service, and has to put that in the following year, it's a big deal. He said initially he didn't like the idea for the charge for ambulance service, but following the meeting a couple a weeks ago he's reassessed his position. He said what County Ambulance is asking for is far cheaper than providing our own service.

Dennis said the ambulance is a for-profit business and charges the customer whether the town pays or not. He said he couldn't envision that County Ambulance wouldn't come to transport someone. Brett said there is no law that requires County Ambulance to provide service without a contract. He said there is a significant elderly population, and there are people who could die because the town didn't pay $8,900, and if it's not criminal, it's morally wrong. Dennis said it should be noted that Ellsworth doesn't pay. Brett said that's correct, but if County Ambulance didn't serve Ellsworth, they would go out of business. He said if they didn't serve Lamoine, it wouldn't hurt County Ambulance .

Fire Chief Skip Smith asked how we could realistically think prices won't go up each year. He said taking $57,000 from this budget knowing we have to pave Shore Road and provide the other services, it doesn't seem realistic. He said the town has to come up with some idea to increase its tax base.

Franco Colella asked if Brett had checked with the Town Attorney regarding the ambulance service information. Brett said he called Maine Municipal Association and then the E-911 service for information. Mr. Colella said the town ought to check with the town attorney. Jo said they're trying to keep costs down. Chief Smith said the town seems willing to spend $10,000 to hire an attorney to save $8,000.

Cynthia Donaldson said it is a band-aid. She said crack sealing is one example. She said if you take it out, it might have to come back later. She said the ambulance troubles her because it's about health which is not an entitlement. She said County Ambulance is a business which has increasing costs. She said County can afford to do Ellsworth without a contract because there is more clientele. She said she's uncomfortable not having the contract which people have come to expect. Brett said the town should look at it as a business as well. He said it's desirable to have 911 provide an ambulance. He said the alternative is much more expensive, even if it joined with Trenton and Hancock. He said it would certainly cost more than $9,000 a year. He said he has no complaint with County's service.

Richard said there is an easy fix to this problem, which was in front of the town at the last special town meeting which was to increase the tax cap limit. He said that could be in the town's hands at any time. He said if the town had not rejected the increase, we wouldn't be in this fix. Chief Smith said the town was very unprepared at the last meeting. Jo said it's a difficult issue to understand. She said no one likes the idea that taxes can rise without a limit.

Mrs. Theall said she heard that we would vote again. Brett said if this is defeated on the 28 th the Selectmen could bring back other options. Jo explained the big referendum question is to cut the budget, and mentioned the 2 nd referendum question to add money for Shore Road paving. She said if article 2 is voted down, there are several options. She said the Selectmen felt there was a clear majority (at the April 28 th meeting) that didn't want the LD-1 override. She said the question was where the town wants the cuts. She said if the town doesn't want to cut as the Selectmen suggested, the Board would decide what the next step would be. She said the could ask to take it all out of surplus, or reconsider the tax cap override, or find the cuts in a different way.

Richard said there were a few reasons for not taking it from surplus. He said the message was clear at the last town meeting that the voters wanted to see cuts. Jo said she disagreed on what the message interpretation was. She said her interpretation was that they didn't want taxes raised. Richard said at least two people said the budget committee wants to spend, spend, spend.

Michael Garrett said massive confusion about LD-1 contributed to the April 28 th vote. Jo said there was some propaganda. Dennis said if this passes, this year is taken care of, then asked what happens next year. Stu said the amount that could be raised from property tax for the municipal side of the budget is zero, and if this passes, it's still zero. He said unless the town votes to increase that base, it will always be zero. He noted that portable classroom rental income of $28,000 will be gone soon, which will make the problem even worse. A short discussion and explanation about the override options followed.

Cynthia said if the override had passed, there is an increase factor built into LD-1 and a positive number would rise slightly each year. Stu said that was correct that once a base is set, there is a formula that to give the percentage increase. He said because the base is zero, it will always be zero unless there is an override to increase the base.

Richard said the message is that until the town votes to increase that base, the town will stay at zero for the indefinite future. Stu said that was correct.

Mr. Colella said there is a major road expense for paving Shore Road coming up. He asked if there was any projection for next year. Stu said paving Seal Point Road is planned for next year, and that's about the same length as Shore Road . He said the major paving budget would be the same or a little higher. Mr. Colella said this is a controllable cost, so that if ¾ of Seal Point Road was done, the town would save a considerable amount of money which would go to school expenses. Stu said we're not talking about schools at all; it's only the municipal side of the budget. Mr. Colella said money could be saved on road repair by not doing it. Stu said he would argue that point because costs increase the longer maintenance is deferred. Mr. Colella asked to have a Selectman answer his question. He said he wants to know that the service fee for the ambulance will be in next year's budget and the cut comes from somewhere else to comply with LD-1. Jo said road maintenance is a place to invest money to save money. She said the town roads have a good system of maintenance over the past 10-years. She said this proposal eliminates crack sealing. She said a recent presentation pointed out that crack sealing can extend a road's life which saves money in the long run. She said she's not sure about paving half a road one year and one half the next year is prudent.

Richard said he thinks Mr. Colella is talking about cash flow vs. business investment. He said it seems to be wise to invest in the roads because it would cost more in the long run. He said the town could cut short road maintenance to stay within the LD-1 requirements, but he's not sure it's the wise choice.

Perry said he thinks Mr. Colella is saying that the Selectmen cut the ambulance to put fear in everyone into voting against the cuts. Perry said going into the last meeting with County Ambulance he didn't think they would renew the ambulance contract. Brett said it was a big chunk of money that was staring at the Selectmen with the option to cut. Perry said $9,000 could come from surplus with the correct vote to reinstate the ambulance service.

Jo said the recommendations came from the Budget Committee. She said there was no intent to manipulate peoples' emotions. Mr. Colella said he's used the service twice for his mother-in-law. He said he heard today this is a concern. Jo said if you go through the proposed cuts there could be concerns on every line. Mr. Colella said the words are serious. He said there are other things that could be looked at that are less dramatic. Jo asked if Mr. Colella would like the ambulance contract money continued and the cut taken from somewhere else. Mr. Colella said he doesn't want to hear that someone's life is in danger because the town didn't choose something else. Jo said there are difficult choices.

Mr. Colella asked if in the past the service contract has not been paid. Stu said he believes the contract has been in effect for 32-consecutive years. Dan Bahr of County Ambulance said it was 33-years.

Hubene Brodie asked if County Ambulance is paid do they guarantee a response every time they're called, or if something is going on in Ellsworth would that preclude response. Mr. Bahr said he could not stand here and guarantee anything. He said if a bus rolls over, the resources will be depleted fast. He said he's not aware of any time they couldn't respond, and they do have a mutual aid system which they often utilize.

Mrs. Brodie asked if Ellsworth pays. Mr. Bahr said they used to, but they no longer pay. Mrs. Brodie asked which town took precedence if County is down to just one ambulance. Mr. Bahr said they would determine which patient is more seriously injured and decide on that basis. Mrs. Brodie asked if they would refuse to come to Lamoine. Mr. Bahr said they wouldn't want to. He said they have to list out the towns in the primary coverage area, and if on July 1, Lamoine does not wish to enter the contract, the town would be removed from the list. He said if a truck was available, it would be sent. He said it's easy to say it's a for-profit service, but people are mistaken because insurance is paying back less of the costs. He explained the insurance funding cuts, and said they lose money on a lot of calls. He said if all the contracted towns stopped, they would still provide service in Ellsworth. He said the reason to provide service to the small towns is so they won't have to have their own expensive ambulance service. A short discussion followed on how the contract price is structured. Mr. Ford asked about the number of calls to Lamoine. Mr. Bahr said the average is about 50-calls a year.

Carol Korty said she'd have to hate to choose between keeping the roads in good condition and having an ambulance service. She said she values the alternate route on Buttermilk Road for a smooth ride and urged a vote for the override. Carol Smith asked if there were simultaneous accidents in Ellsworth and Lamoine and they choose one call and neither town retains the services would they call the backup. Mr. Bahr said yes they would. He said they cannot provide a crew and ambulance for each of the 16-towns because it's not economically feasible. Mrs. Smith said the fire department would respond to a person who votes against funding the fire department, and she assumed that County Ambulance would do the same. Mr. Bahr said yes. He said if they had three crews and four calls, and one was in Lamoine without a contract, Lamoine would get the leftovers.

Donna Theall asked if there were other towns that have not renewed the contract. Mr. Bahr said so far they've all agreed to renew. Richard said County would love to have a contract with Ellsworth, but that city has voted not to spend the money, and perhaps the per capita charge would be reduced if Ellsworth were paying.

Jo said there are a lot of other line items being considered as part of the budget cut. She listed the proposed cut areas. Dale Macurdy asked why the Budget Committee didn't know about this ahead of time. Henry Ashmore said the work on the budget was completed before LD-1 passed. Mr. Macurdy said the town meeting was in March and the budget could have been reconsidered. Richard said the full understanding of the impacts of LD-1 was not known for many months after passage, and there is still a question about some of the impacts. Brett said the basis is on the current fiscal year, and the number used could not have been affected by the previous town meeting.

Stu said the Legislature passed LD-1 in late January and the Budget Committee had made their recommendations days before passage and the Selectmen signed the town meeting warrant after LD-1 passed before everyone had figured out what it was. He said the impact from Maine Municipal Association came in around the time of town meeting and that he'd announced at town meeting that we would have to come back to deal with it.

Mr. Colella asked about the Ellsworth Library, and wondered why the cut was not deeper. He asked if the YMCA was cut. Jo said the proposed cut to the Y was $500. Dr. Ashmore said the amount of the library cut was to the same level as previous years. Jo pointed out it was lower. Mr. Colella said he's looking at the Library and YMCA could be used for $5,000 more in cuts, so only $3,900 would be needed for the difference on the ambulance. He said there are categories are not vital to the people. A short discussion on what was considered a priority. Brett asked if the cuts proposed by Mr. Colella should be carried on each fiscal year. Mr. Colella said if the choice is public safety or the library, most people would choose public safety.

Brett said a lot of the cuts are little slivers, and the dollar figure is what is needed to cut. Mr. Colella said the choices made by the Selectmen are critical things, and some things were kept in the budget. He said if one were to ask a mother which one to choose, they would pick the ambulance and cut the library. Brett said there was no ulterior motive in the choices made. Mr. Colella said he's concerned there was a public safety item chosen over non public-safety. Perry said at the time there was no intent to renew the ambulance contract. He said if they had intended, the cuts might have come from someplace else. Jo said the whole budget was approved at town meeting, and there was the option of debating this at town meeting. She said the town already said these are things they wanted to do.

Michael Garrett said there are other things than public safety, and things like the library and Y warrant at least a minimal contribution. Ms. Korty said the focus seems to be on cutting things instead of being stuck with a poorly thought out law. She said cost of living increases yearly, and it's a reality to deal with. She said it's the task of Lamoiners to see how to change the law or have an override instead of cutting everything back year after year. She said it's an insane situation, and she doesn't favor accommodating ways to respond to it. Mr. Macurdy said cutting the budget to deal with LD-1 does not heal the wound.

Jo continued to read down the list of proposed cuts. She said the recommendation on Social Service agencies was to give each of them one dollar so they could leverage that for other grants that require community support. She listed each of the other cuts proposed.

Mrs. Theall asked if the reconsideration of the budget is voted down and the town votes for the override, is there still a shortfall. Stu said if the majority votes against the first referendum question, the Selectmen can come back with the override question. He said if the override passes, the shortfall goes away and a legal tax commitment could be made. He said additionally there would be a basis to move forward. Mrs. Theall said that means the shortfall would be made up by using property taxes. She said the Selectmen are going forward with this question based on the last town meeting vote. Jo said that was correct. Mrs. Theall said there is still likely a lot of confusion. She said if people vote for the cuts, the hole will keep getting deeper.

Richard said when you start with a basis that can grow each year; it's a factor of growth in town and annual inflation. He said until the town votes for an increase in the base, we're at zero. Mrs. Theall asked if there is a simple communication could be sent out to clarify what the budget is, explaining that if this is voted down, the town meeting could come back for an LD-1 override. Mr. Colella said it could also be a realignment of the cuts chosen and advocated for that action.

Ms. Korty asked if Mr. Colella felt comfortable not being able to use any property taxes in the future. A confused discussion followed and Jo called for order. Richard said new tax growth in town can't be used for growth in the municipal budget without the town voting to do that.

Mrs. Brodie said no matter what's proposed to be cut, someone will be upset. She explained how the budget committee came up with the proposed cuts. Jo said the Budget Committee and the Selectmen need to be responsive to town meeting, and they've tried to do that here. She said it was a difficult meeting.

Dr. Ashmore said if the referendum is turned down, one of the options is that the money could come from surplus. He said that exacerbates the problem, making it worse in the following years. He said that's worse than a band-aid. Richard said that's how we got into this mess for this year. Brett said it's ironic that the town exhibited fiscal responsibility for this budget year by using surplus funds, and is being penalized for this.

Lance Landon asked about the solid waste budget proposed cut. Stu said he based that on the current figures of what's going to PERC which is down significantly. He said there had been some problems with Pine Tree Waste hauling other trash and it being billed to the town. He said there should be plenty of budget money in the PERC line.

Stu said Mrs. Theall asked about a communication advocating a vote. Mrs. Theall explained it wasn't to advocate a position, but to explain exactly what the consequences are. Stu said the explanation on the TV channel tonight is one way to do that. Chief Smith said the facts of people doing without some services would speak for themselves.

Ms. Korty said she's asked about putting out such a mailing and she doesn't understand why that can't be done. She said many people voting on the referendum won't understand the issue. Mrs. Brodie said that would be too expensive for the budget. She said the question is voted as it is written either yes or no. Stu said there is a sticky ethical area when elected officials send out explanations on town letterhead. He said there was a misleading mailing that came out prior to the last town meeting. He said it's better left to citizen groups to do such mailings, and it's very expensive.

Brett said everyone has the opportunity and right to present their position to their neighbors and encouraged that. Wendi Meyer said it's hard to accept that lives are turned upside down by people in Augusta who didn't know what they're voting for.

David Henry said he understands the Selectmen and Budget Committee are putting this forward against their better judgment. He said when the voters see the recommendation, there is an implied understanding that the Selectmen and Budget Committee favor this thing, but they're putting it forward under duress. He said he wondered if there is some way to express this is not where they want to be. He said he understands they have to follow through on the town vote. Jo said she thinks they are constrained by town meeting.

Richard said he would have preferred that the town accept the increase at the last town meeting. Mrs. Brodie said by saying this is under duress, you're trying to sway people's votes. Jo said all can express their opinion, but none of the Selectmen use the office as a bully pulpit.

Mr. Macurdy asked what would happen if we challenged the state on the law. Brett said the law provides the override. Jo said some at the previous town meeting said they were sending Augusta a message but she wasn't sure what the message was. It was asked who would go to jail with an illegal tax commitment. Jo said the assessors won't make one. Stu said if an illegal tax commitment is sent out and people choose not to pay their bills, there is no way for the town to legally collect it. Mrs. Theall said that would be a bad situation.

Jo said she invited Senator Dennis Damon to the meeting, but the Legislature is in session this evening. She said because this is a referendum vote, this is the opportunity to discuss this. Mr. Garrett said the presentation tonight was superb. Dr. Rev. Henry said he appreciated the Selectmen proposing to cut their own salaries and said that's a difficult thing. Jo said she felt it was fair. She said for some it's a nominal thing, for others it pays for child care and taxes.

Linwood Brann said there was a lot of misinformation put out before the last special town meeting and there were a lot of people there. He said he didn't see many people here tonight to thrash this out. He asked if there was any way to let the public know what's going on. He said there is no way for him to get information unless he stops by the town hall. Jo said the public hearing provides that, and we're fortunate to have the cable, though not everyone has access to that. She said because it's a referendum vote and not an open town meeting, it does make potentially for larger numbers of voters, but there is a question on whether they know what they're voting on.

Mrs. Theall asked about the voting date. Jo said it's Tuesday, June 28 th from 10AM to 8PM. Chief Smith said if the town votes on everything by referendum, it will lose a very valuable way of deciding town issues, and the Selectmen should look at it. Jo said she opposes putting everything to referendum, but because of time constraints, this is the way to proceed. A short discussion followed about open town meeting.

Stu noted that Chris Bowman, the Cable TV technician is leaving for school soon and wanted to thank him publicly. The audience gave Mr. Bowman a long round of applause for his efforts.

Mr. Colella said the Selectmen and Budget Committee made tough choices. He said cuts can be made and things are just fine. He said if this is voted down, the Selectmen should not work on an increase, but a tweak in where to cut.

There being no further matters to discuss, the meeting adjourned at approximately 8:45 PM

Respectfully submitted,

Stu Marckoon, Adm. Asst. to the Selectmen.