May 22, 2018
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Rockport Select Board reject library-proposed referendum question

Stephen Betts | BDN
Stephen Betts | BDN
Heaven Bartlett of Rockport (left) urged speakers Tuesday evening to be civil during their debate on whether to hold a nonbinding referendum on building a new public library on the former Rockport Elementary School site
By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

ROCKPORT, Maine — The Rockport Select Board voted 3-2 Tuesday night against placing a nonbinding referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot as worded by the library committee for building a new library on the former Rockport Elementary School site.

The board agreed, however, to meet again Monday evening to go over the wording of a question that might go on the ballot.

The approximately 90 people who turned out Tuesday night to advise the Select Board on the issue were sharply divided.

Board Chairman William Chapman and Board member Tracy Lee Murphy voted to support the question — as worded by the library committee.

The proposed ballot question as recommended by the committee was: “Do you agree that the town of Rockport should develop a plan for a new library on the [Rockport Elementary School] site, provided the current ball fields are preserved and pending community input on design and budget?”

Select Board member Kenneth McKinley said that a large turnout is likely in November with a governor’s race on the state ballot. He said while the wording of the proposed question is not perfect, the vote will have the best sample size possible and the board could reword the question.

Board member Charlton Ames said he wants the voters to vote but would like to expand the question into a multiple choice one.

Board member Tracy Lee Murphy said the appropriate question was needed for the ballot, but there should be a referendum.

Board member Geoffrey Parker said he was concerned that the question being proposed would be open to interpretations if approved. He suggested a townwide survey be done.

Board Chairman William Chapman voiced support for holding the referendum.

The 34 town residents who spoke at the public hearing were divided on whether the matter should be on the Nov. 4 ballot. Residents also have been divided on whether the library should be relocated or remain downtown.

William Leone said that moving the library out of the downtown, along with the coming loss of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, would hurt the downtown significantly from an economic standpoint. He said the proposal simply did not have enough information for residents to make an informed decision such as the cost of a new library and what would be done with the current library property.

“This is not ready for prime time,” Leone said.

Sally Cook agreed and said the proposal is incomplete and premature.

Cook also said that the town has experienced an increase in property taxes during the past few years and that a new library would be a multimillion-dollar project that would increase them further.

Constance Gibbons also spoke out against holding the referendum and said the library committee’s proposal that stipulates that the building must be a minimum of 10,000 square feet and 47 parking spaces is based on guesses and wishes.

Patricia Messler urged the Select Board to hold the referendum. She said that since 2003, it has been clear that the library is too small for the needs of the patrons.

Messler said the former school site is only six-tenths of a mile from the current location and could become a gateway to the downtown and the harbor.

The former Rockport Elementary School is located at the intersection of Routes 1 and 90.

Peter Johnson said the public should be given an opportunity to vote on the matter.

“We have a rare gift in the [Rockport Elementary School] site that many communities would envy,” Johnson said.

The former school site would allow for room for community meeting rooms, adequate parking and handicapped accessibility. He said the lot would allow a library with meeting rooms and ballfields that would serve all age groups for generations.

Kathleen Meil from the library committee said the referendum was needed to allow the committee to seek grants and raise money. She said the committee would raise a majority of the money needed for a new library as it has for other library projects over the years.

Rebekah Woodworth said that a referendum would let all citizens have a say and not just those who live in the village within walking distance of the current library.

Kerin Lindahl said she supports a November vote. She said it saddens her that her children have to go to another community to go to a library. She said the current location does not have adequate parking nor is it safe to cross the street at the busy downtown intersections to get to the library.

Marti Stone said she also supports having a referendum. Stone said that after years of discussion, it is a simple request and would show respect to the library committee to have that referendum.

Rep. Joan Welsh, D-Rockport, said she was neutral on whether the library should be built at the former Rockport Elementary School site or whether it should be expanded at the current location. But, the representative said, the town should send the matter to the voters.

Stephanie Lash, who serves on the library committee, said she opposed the panel’s recommendation to hold a referendum. She said voters are not being given an option. She said she resents accusations that those opposed to a new library at the Rockport Elementary School site are against the elderly, teenagers and democracy.

The library’s steering committee has been meeting since March and held a series of meetings throughout the town to garner input on what residents want for a new library. The committee issued a report in June, recommending a new library be built at the former Rockport Elementary School property owned by the town.

The committee indicated in its recommendation that a new building should be at least 10,000 square feet, and 14,000 square feet would be needed in the foreseeable future.

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