Bitter words at council meeting

13 years ago

Road waiver request is hot topic
By Elna Seabrooks
Staff Writer

    HOULTON — A measure that would allow the town to waive the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians’ 2010 Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) due to their improvements on town-owned roads was tabled Monday night for a future meeting. The road improvements were made through use of grant money from the Bureau of Indian Affairs which required engineering reports and valued the actual cost of the upgrades on Currier and Bell roads at $201,670.
    Chief Brenda Commander had requested the waiver in accordance with LD 1377 which was passed by the legislature in 2009 allowing for such an exchange. Although Councilor John Fitzpatrick said “it sounds like a pretty good deal,” residents Carl Lord and Phil Bernaiche disagreed.
    Lord, a member of the Board of Budget Review, questioned the waiver and its budgetary consequences. Bernaiche said he was “irritated” and continued by saying “here you are giving this band of Maliseets a write-off. What do you think we are? Do you think we come from a zoo or something?”
    Fred Grant said the waiver was “controversial” and he made a motion to table the vote. Newly elected Councilor John White seconded the vote that passed. Councilors Sue Tortello and Brian Donnelly abstained due to their employment by the Maliseet administration.
Other business
    In an advance look at potential budgetary issues, Town Manager Doug Hazlett made a presentation using broad strokes to paint the town’s financial picture.
    In his “2011 expense headlines,” Hazlett stated that municipal salaries will be flat and medical insurance premiums will rise by 9.25 percent. The increase, he said, is due not to claims, but to legislative changes and “insurance companies’ real costs. Nothing comes for free.”
    “Capital projects will be minimal,” Hazlett said. And, he added, although town revenues have grown, the state’s revenue-sharing with towns is shrinking. Short-term borrowing, Hazlett stated, will be used for necessary capital projects as well as computer and facility upgrades.
    Hazlett also said he sees key actions involving spending restraint, leveraging Tax Incremental Funding  (TIF) to reduce budget costs and making use of short-term borrowing.
    The Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) ordinance passed which will allow residents to borrow money to make energy improvements at no risk or liability to the town in a contractual arrangement with Efficiency Maine to distribute PACE funds.
    Property owners will be able to borrow money to improve their energy efficiency following a required energy audit. The loan could then be used to purchase improvements such as windows, insulation, a furnace, a pellet boiler or improvements indicated as needed in the audit.
    If approved for the loan, the homeowner can pay off the PACE loan or allow it to transfer with the property when the house is sold. Also according to Efficiency Maine, the loan would not be a tax or part of a tax-lien process.
    Councilors also voted to extend the moratorium on the location or licensing of any marijuana dispensaries. Hazlett said the state has not defined parameters for the dispensaries and suggested it was best to extend the moratorium until those issues were resolved.
    Before adjourning, Fred Grant announced that he will resign from his position on the council due to his recent election to the SAD 29 school board. His replacement will be named by the council based on those residents who submit their names for the post. 
    The next council meeting will be held in Council Chambers, 21 Water St., Monday, Nov. 21, at 6:30 p.m.