CASTINE, Maine — Voters on Saturday approved a $2.5 million plan for repairs to roads, waterlines and sewer lines in the village area and authorized selectmen to issue general obligation bonds to pay for the project.
The vote at Saturday’s annual town meeting was unanimous, but not without some discussion and two split votes on a related funding issue.
The project is the first phase of a long-term project to upgrade the town’s infrastructure. The costs of all those repairs have been estimated at $14 million, so the selectmen prioritized the needs and divided them into five projects of approximately the same cost, according to Town Manager Dale Abernethy.
Abernethy said the selectmen have allocated the cost in three areas: roads, waterlines and sewer lines. Costs related to the improvements on the roads will be paid through property taxes; for the sewer lines, from user fees; and for waterlines, through water rates.
The sewer costs can be paid back without an increase in the sewer rates, but the waterline costs will require an increase in water rates of about 7 percent. That will come on top of an increase already planned, Abernethy said.
Bids on the project came in under what the selectmen had anticipated, and that raised questions. Selectmen explained that with the lower bid, the amount they planned to raise for the project this year would be less. The warrant article asked voters to approve $400,000, but that portion of the town’s costs will be just $301,000.
Selectman Peter Vogell said that if the full amount was raised, anything left over would be placed in a reserve account for future projects.
Residents twice rejected moves to reduce the amount before approving the full $400,000.
During the discussion, Jeff Loustaunau, vice president for enrollment management and the commandant of midshipmen at Maine Maritime Academy, said the college administration viewed the proposed infrastructure improvements as critical to the college and offered to work with the town on funding the projects.
“We’d like to collaborate with the town to find alternative sources of funding,” Loustaunau said.
He noted that MMA might have access to both state and federal funds that might not be available to the town on its own.
Abernethy cautioned that the town had a limited amount of time to accept the bids on the project and could not wait for those alternate sources of funding to develop. He noted, however, that there would be other projects where the town and academy could work together.
Voters finally approved the full $400,000. They then approved the entire project and the full $2.5 million funding plan.
Voters also authorized the expenditure of $1 million from the Witherle Memorial Library endowment fund for an addition to the library.
One resident raised concerns about the design for the new ADA access to the library which is part of the project. Library trustees noted that the plans had been reviewed by the town’s historic preservation committee and had been altered to address concerns from residents. Most residents agreed that design concerns were not pertinent to the article and overwhelmingly approved the funding.
Library trustee Margery Read reported that a potential boundary dispute had been resolved and that a separate article to expend $10,000 to deal with the issue would not be needed. Read also reported the library had just received a $20,000 grant from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation to furnish the expanded children’s room at the library.
Voters also approved a petition measure to return the Board of Selectmen to a three-member board. That vote reverses a decision made in November to expand the board to five members. Additional members would have been elected this November if the article had been rejected.
The vote was 65-55 in favor of the three-member board.
In other voting, the residents also approved a school budget of $1,127,932.