July 15, 2019
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Wiscasset reverses June vote to dump town planner

Abigail W. Adams | Lincoln County News
Abigail W. Adams | Lincoln County News
Wiscasset Town Planner Ben Averill on his last day at work Friday.

Wiscasset will soon advertise an open position for a town planner, following the results of a special town meeting on Thursday. While several residents, including some members of the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen, objected to the open town meeting to reconsider the June vote, the warrant article passed 56-29.

Ninety-two people turned out for the open town meeting, which was called for by a citizens’ petition, to reconsider the town planner budget. The budget of $66,764 was voted down 466-256 at the annual town meeting by referendum in June.

The special open town meeting was scheduled after extensive debate and a split 3-2 vote on the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen in early August. A citizens’ petition certified in July called for the open town meeting, but holding it was at the discretion of selectmen, according to the town attorney.

Selectmen Ben Rines and Bob Blagden objected to the open town meeting, which they said was an effort by a small group of citizens to overturn a ballot vote. Some residents in attendance at Thursday’s meeting echoed their objections.

One resident said he voted in favor of the planning department budget at the annual town meeting, but was voting no at the open town meeting, because the process “was an insult.”

The town voted to hold referendum town meetings for all warrant articles with a financial component many years ago. “It’s a shame you’re trying to reverse that,” he said. Another resident said the budget should have been placed on the November ballot, if the position was so important that it required another vote.

Moderator Susan Blagden asked all comments be limited to the warrant article in front of voters, not the process that resulted in the open town meeting. Several residents spoke in favor of the position, which they said was key to moving economic development forward in Wiscasset.

The town committees now charged with the responsibilities that fell to the town planner are composed of volunteers, and have had difficulty functioning since the position was eliminated, said both Karl Olson, chair of the Ordinance Review Committee and member of the planning board, and John Reinhardt, chair of the historic preservation commission.

Some residents said there was confusion about the warrant article that was voted down at the annual town meeting, with voters not realizing they were eliminating the planning position when they voted against the budget.

The town planner budget has been voted down several times in recent years, and each time brought back through a special town meeting, Bob Blagden said. “There is no way more than a handful of people didn’t know what they were voting on. This has been going on too long,” he said.

Wiscasset has several employees who are more than capable of absorbing the responsibilities of the town planner, Rines said. “We can make it work,” without a town planner, he said.

After nearly 40 minutes of discussion, the warrant article went to a vote and the town planner position was reinstated. Wiscasset will begin to advertise the open position on Friday, Town Manager Marian Anderson said.

 



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