SEARSPORT, Maine — Residents at Saturday’s annual town meeting approved a budget 1 percentage point higher than last year’s spending document, supported an ordinance change to assist a local business and took the first step toward regaining control of a discontinued town road. They also adopted an ordinance aimed at keeping sex offenders away from parks and playgrounds.
Voters approved changes to the Limited Commercial District II under the shoreland zoning ordinance that reduces the setback from 75 to 25 feet and expands the amount of lot coverage allowed from 20 percent to 70 percent. The changes apply to seven lots within the district, which basically is devoted to a mix of low-intensity businesses and commercial uses.
One of those businesses, Rollie’s Restaurant and Grill, came into conflict with the ordinance last year when it expanded its outdoor deck and dining area. The deck was constructed within 28 feet of Mill Stream, and unintentionally violated the Natural Resources Protection Act. Voters overwhelming changed the setback to permit the deck.
“If you want, you can call this the Rollie’s amendment,” planning board Chairman Bruce Probert told the gathering.
Residents also approved an article instructing the Board of Selectmen or its designee to begin negotiations with a property owner on Bog Hill Road for an easement that would enable the town to improve the road. The town discontinued the road years ago and, although a right of way remained, its ownership reverted to abutting property owners.
Over the years, a subdivision was approved for a parcel off the road and other families have built homes along it as well. Portions of the road become a quagmire during mud season and virtually impassable during winter, making it difficult for police and other emergency services vehicles to reach homes there.
Town Manager James Gillway said the town would need to obtain permission from those homeowners to cross their properties before the town could make the needed improvements. Without the easements, Gillway said, “we would be spending town funds on private property.”
Voters approved an ordinance requiring lifetime registrants of the Maine Sex Offender Registry to give notification upon entering areas where children likely would be to be present. Board of Selectmen Chairman Aaron Fethke, an attorney, wrote the proposed ordinance. Fethke said, at present, the ordinance bans registered sex offenders from being within 500 feet of a park or a playground. He said the ordinance could be made more restrictive at a later date.
“It’s time to do something like this,” Fethke said. “Maybe we can build on it and improve it later.”
The 2009 annual budget came in approximately 1 percent higher than the year before, with major spending items including $156,173 for administration, $228,413 for police protection, $161,200 for fire protection, $337,622 for public works and $74,436 for the Carver Memorial Library.
Appropriations to reserve accounts approved by the voters included: $12,000 for the ambulance reserve, $20,000 for public works, $125,000 for road maintenance, $30,000 for the public safety building, $18,000 for police cruisers and $10,000 for building repairs.
Residents raised $1,000 for the Swan Lake Association’s Eurasian water milfoil program. Gilroy said one-third of the lake is within the town’s boundary, and that many “high-value” properties are located on the lake. He said a milfoil infestation would reduce those values.
“They have been successful,” Gilroy said of the lake association. “They have stopped milfoil from getting in the lake.”
Another request that received strong voter support was a $2,000 appropriation for the University of Maine Hutchinson Center in Belfast. Dorothy Alling said the center provided significant educational opportunities to those seeking higher education, as well as the popular Senior College.
“We dearly love the Hutchinson Center,” she said.
Alling was equally persuasive when she advocated for a $1,000 request for the Waldo County YMCA. Alling, who serves on the YMCA board of directors, said the facility provided free after-school programs for the town’s teenagers, and planned to hold free swimming lessons for all Waldo County first-graders when the new pool opens next fall.
“We are known as the poorest YMCA in Maine,” she said. “It’s not a country club.”