Hampden council accepts 40 acres, tables excise tax break proposal

Posted Aug. 06, 2012, at 11:14 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 07, 2012, at 12:25 p.m.

HAMPDEN, Maine — The Hampden Town Council voted to approve the donation of 40 acres of woodland, tabled a proposal to waive excise taxes for active duty military personnel and argued over how and who should review the town charter section that regulates the town council.

The proposed ordinance that would exempt eligible active-duty U.S. military personnel from paying vehicle excise tax has plenty of support among councilors. Those same councilors, however, have questions concerning whether or not to limit the number of vehicles each active troop member can register tax-free, and whether or not there should be an income eligibility limit. The six councilors attending Monday night’s meeting at the Hampden town office agreed to table the proposal to allow town office staffers to research those issues.

While there was a little debate over the gift to the town due to tax revenue concerns, Elizabeth Halpern’s donation of 40 acres of wooded land that borders Patterson Road was approved 5-1 by the council. The tract of land that is close to Western Avenue will be named Nason Halpern Woods.

The agenda item that occupied most of the time at Monday’s 2½-hour meeting was a proposal by Councilor Kristen Hornbrook to discuss article II of the Hampden town charter, which governs and regulates the makeup and powers of the town council.

Several motions were made, but only one was approved, and that was by a slim 4-2 margin.

“I’ve had a number of people who think that we should have a public conversation about the town charter’s section on the duties of the council and the council chair,” said Hornbrook.

Noting that the council’s finance committee has tried for the last two months to review article II without success, Councilor and Mayor Janet Hughes said it didn’t make sense to set up another subcommittee to address it.

Hornbrook made a couple of references to “secret meetings” by the council — something Councilor Thomas Brann took great exception to.

“I would ask Councilor Hornbrook to provide substantiation of these secret meetings by the council,” Brann said. “To my knowledge, no secret meetings have been held or attended by any councilor.”

Hughes said she has grown frustrated over a lack of participation by councilors and residents, who have yet to submit any feedback, questions or suggestions to her regarding charter changes in the article.

“We really want public input on this because this charter is all about the town,” she said.

Councilors eventually agreed to hold a public workshop on the article at the town office on Tuesday, Sept. 18. They are encouraging anyone from Hampden to attend and participate.

In other council action, councilors:

• Voted 6-0 to approve a contract with both the Hampden fire and police department unions, whose contracts with the town expired on June 30. The contract calls for a 2.5 percent wage increase the first year.

• Approved a $63,000 lease agreement on a loader/backhoe from Nortrax in Hermon. The cost will be paid on a five-year lease through the town’s equipment reserve fund. The other bidder was Caterpillar Sales and Service in Brewer. The Nortrax bid was chosen because it gave Hampden more for its trade-in loader and a better buy-back option.

• Approved the renewals of three outdoor wood-burning furnaces grandfathered from current construction requirements, but still required to reach certain performance standards.

• Unanimously approved repealing existing exemptions from Hampden’s outdoor facilities ordinance for the Dorothea Dix Park and Papermill Road Recreation Area so that all of Hampden’s public parks are governed by the same ordinance regulations.

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the repeal of some exemptions of Hampden’s outdoor facilities ordinance would cause Hampden’s public parks to not be governed by the same ordinance regulations. The repeal of the exemptions means the parks would now all be governed by the same regulations.

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