BLUE HILL, Maine — Voters breezed through most of the warrant articles at the annual town meeting Saturday, and when they finished they had approved a $4.4 million school budget and a $1.7 million municipal budget.
They paused along the way to discuss several articles and for the annual turkey dinner put on by the seventh-grade students at the Blue Hill Consolidated School as a fundraiser for their eighth-grade trip.
The Local Food and Self-Governance Ordinance drew much of the discussion early on. The ordinance would protect the right of small farmers to sell products from the farm directly to an end user, free from regulation and inspection by state and federal agencies.
According to resident Bonnie Preston, a supporter of the ordinance, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has become more stringent in enforcing regulations. The ordinance would not only help farmers, she said, but also would protect activities such as bake sales and church suppers, which, under the stricter enforcement, have been shut down in some states.
Much of the discussion focused not on farming, but on the town’s responsibilities and liability in enforcing the ordinance. Selectmen disagreed on this point. Jim Schatz supported the ordinance and indicated the town would not be forced to defend the ordinance if it were challenged. Based on advice from the Maine Municipal Association, Schatz said, the selectmen have “prosecutorial discretion” if such a challenge arose.
“I don’t think we need to feel bound to take on a challenge and take tax dollars to defend it,’’ he said.
Although Selectman John Bannister said he sympathized with the farmers and indicated there were many areas where the state and federal governments were overregulating individuals and business, he was concerned that enacting the ordinance could force the town into a costly legal battle to defend a challenge.
“The danger here is that we cannot legislate here and usurp state and federal law; they win every time,” he said. “I don’t mind sending a message as long as we don’t have to spend money to defend something that is indefensible.”
Other residents raised concern about a phrase in the ordinance that indicated that in the face of a challenge, the residents could explore other measures to protect their rights, including “the partial or complete separation of the town from other units and levels of government.” Resident Dick Marschuetz warned that the Southern, mostly agricultural states had tried secession and that they had paid dearly for that decision. Others agreed and attempted to strike the phrase from the ordinance.
Amendments to a published ordinance, however, are not allowed under the town meeting rules, and moderator Bob Granger ruled the proposed amendment to be out of order.
Voters then passed the ordinance by an overwhelming voice vote margin.
The voters also authorized the selectmen to enter into an agreement for the design and construction of a salt and sand shed with the cost of construction not to exceed $500,000. The cost of the building is based on estimates from engineers, according to Selectman Bannister.
Voters also authorized the selectmen to use $600,000 left over from a previous sewer project to extend the town sewer line up Green’s Hill. Those funds came from a state grant program and must either be used on the sewer lines or returned to the state, according to Bannister.
In voting on Friday, voters approved an ordinance that regulates cell phone towers by a 264-139 margin, and also approved an ordinance regulating wind turbines by a 257-151 vote. They also authorized a tobacco-free zone on town-owned property near the athletic field and the town park playground.
In the municipal elections, there were two contested races. Incumbent Selectman Bannister won another three-year term on the board, defeating Randy Astbury by a 226-153 margin.
There were three candidates for the two seats open on the school committee. Incumbent Susan Keenan received 305 votes and newcomer Anne Rice received 221 votes to win those two seats. Incumbent Ben Wooten received 208 votes.
Superintendent Mark Hurvitt explained that the school budget of $4.4 million was up by 1.27 percent, or $55,155. The major factor in the increase was a $50,000 allocation in the budget for roof work at the consolidated school.