PALMYRA, Maine — Palmyra’s annual town meeting Saturday finished exactly the same way it started off: with plenty of disagreement, debate and dissent.
Among the 58 articles on the warrant, three in particular — a recycling/pay-as-you-throw waste disposal plan, a $50,000 appropriation to support and renovate the Palmyra Community Center, and an amendment to protect Nokomis Pond as a water source — caused plenty of hue and cry.
Just under 100 citizens turned out for the 10 a.m. meeting and most of them stayed throughout the 5 1/2-hour marathon session as voters turned down two PAYT proposals and opted to stick with the current unlimited disposal plan with Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. that is paid out of taxes, approved $50,000 in appropriated town funds to upgrade the community center, and narrowly voted against adding Nokomis Pond to the town’s shoreland zoning ordinance.
“That was more debated than I thought it would be, but it involved land rights and government regulation of land,” said Selectman Mike Cray. “I am in favor of protecting it. I can also understand guys like [farmer Ernie Turner]’s position with him having a lot of land up there, but on the other hand, [planning board chairman Gary Beem] made a good point about the Newport water district predicting that in 10 to 15 more years, we’ll use more of that water than Newport with [a predicted population] expansion and that’s something we have to protect.”
The final vote was 21-19 against making Nokomis a pond protection zone.
The vote was no less contentious, but not nearly as close when it came to the expected waste disposal debate, which involved three options: two “free” 35-pound containers/bags of trash and then $1 per sticker for each additional one at an estimated tax cost of $16.25 per person per year; no tax money on trash disposal with residents paying $1 per 15-gallon bag and $2 for each 33-gallon bag; or no change with taxes paying for disposal at an estimated cost based on present PERC rates of $206.07 per person per year.
Residents voted by raised hands to keep the system as is, roughly two-thirds to one-third.
“I favored option two because it encourages recycling and drastically cuts down our waste disposal costs, which are only going to go up in two to three years,” said Lorna Howe, a former planning board member now on the recycling and solid waste committee. “This is all about being proactive and not reactive. I’m disappointed, but we can revisit again next year.”
The $50,000 proposal for the community center, formerly the Palmyra School before it was closed as part of statewide consolidation last June, involved $25,000 in funds appropriated from the town’s $684,000 budget surplus account and another $25,000 to be raised by alternative sources and means. Selectman Herbert Brindley proposed cutting the amount to $15,000, but that was rejected in a vote. A resident then proposed making it $30,000 before amending it to $50,000, all appropriated from surplus. Somewhat surprisingly to many in attendance, that was approved by a show of hands.
“Well, there were a lot of different issues thrown out there. I didn’t want to appropriate anything, but I thought we should have compromised,” said 59-year-old Sanborn Quimby, a Palmyra resident for 33 years. “They don’t even know if they’ve got enough to pay for heat and keep the pipes from freezing through the whole winter, but they want to take that money and spend it on this facility. I don’t think there’s enough research going on here with this.”
After all was said, done and voted on, Town Clerk Val Sprague said the overall town budget increased by about $60,000.
“I don’t have the exact figure after all the amendments today, but we were around $690,000 last year and will probably be around $750,000 or so for this one,” she said, noting that she wasn’t surprised by all the debate.
“We expected to have a lot of arguing about those issues,” she said. “People in Palmyra hate change, first and foremost, so I think they voted mostly thinking they’d see what happens down the road when it happens.”