Limestone schedules special town meeting for Dec. 19

3 months ago

LIMESTONE, Maine – Limestone residents will get to vote on many financial items affecting the town during a special meeting Tuesday, Dec. 19.

The meeting was originally slated for Nov. 22, the evening before Thanksgiving, but the Select Board postponed it so that more members of the public could attend.

The board decided Wednesday to keep all warrant articles as proposed but with changes to the wording on one pertaining to the potential purchase of a plow truck.

Article four in the meeting warrant had asked residents to approve funds “not to exceed $260,000” from the public works reserve account for purchasing a new plow truck. Board members feared that some residents might mistakenly think that the town will definitely spend $260,000 on the truck.

The board already set aside $193,000 in federal ARPA funds for a truck but has not decided whether to purchase or lease a truck. The $260,000 threshold would give the town legroom if the price goes up higher than anticipated, said Interim Town Manager Alan Mulherin.

Mulherin agreed to change the language on that warrant and have the Select Board approve all warrants prior to posting them at least seven days before the meeting.

Town budget committee member Chuck Kelley encouraged the board to explore leasing options for a truck rather than a new purchase. He said that after touring the public works garage, he believes that having a new truck is not an urgent need.

Kelley suggested that the town look at options for leasing a truck instead and create a five-year plan that would establish a rotation cycle for replacing older equipment.

“A new truck purchase wouldn’t happen for this winter season anyway. The highway crew has said that what they have will work for this winter,” Kelley said.

Select Board Chairperson Randy Brooker said that the town is already looking at options to lease a truck. But even if that happens, they would not have the truck ready to plow for at least nine months. During that time, Highway Foreman Spencer Keiser would need to outfit the truck into a plow truck.

If residents approve the reserve funds now rather than later, that will allow the town to potentially get the leased or purchased truck ready before next winter, Brooker said.

“The highway crew has done the best they could with what they have but if we delay this, it could go into the following year [2025],” Brooker said.

On Dec. 19, residents will also vote to: take $54,000 from a town-owned CD to pay back $52,007 in taxes to the Internal Revenue Service; transfer $50,000 from the undesignated fund balance into a tax revaluation fund; spend $275,000 to finalize the town’s solar project; approve a new food sovereignty ordinance; spend $17,000 to upgrade tax software; and allow the town to sell or lease Trafton Lake Campground.

The budget committee is recommending that the town hold a public hearing before approving any sale or lease agreement to inform residents of the situation, Kelley said.

Recently, the board did not approve a proposed sale of the campground, per recommendations from the town’s attorney. The board and Mulherin did not state what the purchase terms would have been.

Mulherin has learned that the 49 acres includes the land that circles around Trafton Lake, not just the campground and recreation area. He is recommending that the town retain ownership of any land directly encircling the lake, as well as the camp and recreation areas.

“There are also concerns about a ¾-acre lot sold to a party who built a camp on the southerly side of the lake and what they would mean if we sold the land in that area,” Mulherin said. “A survey [of all land] will need to be done before we issue requests for proposals.”

In other business, the Select Board and Limestone Chamber of Commerce agreed to relocate the Chamber’s office from the main section of the town office building to the area that the former police department once occupied.

Mulherin said that the move needs to occur in order to better secure the town office during the next election cycle in 2024.

Three months ago, the state’s election committee warned Limestone that the town’s vote tabulation machine and voting materials would be subject to security breaches if Mulherin and staff do not take stricter precautions.

The state election committee expects a higher number of poll watchers at local voting places due to increasingly polarized politics nationwide and an uptick in violent threats and attacks against election workers, Mulherin said. That could get worse during the November 2024 presidential election, so the state wants to ensure all towns have the proper security.

“The state [election committee] will be sending people to try to break into our ballot processing system. If they do, we could lose the right to have a polling place,” Mulherin said.

Mulherin referenced a recent article from Nathan Lee, managing director of CivicPulse, a nonprofit that compiles research and data to assist government entities. 

In their latest research, CivicPulse found that both Democratic and Republican elected leaders and election workers have been increasingly subject to insults, threats, harassment or violence from partisan residents and poll watchers since Aug. 2022, when CivicPulse began collecting data. 

In response, the town needs to limit main office and ballot material access to office employees – Mulherin and two town clerks – and keep ballot boxes and materials locked at all times leading up to the 2024 elections. 

The Chamber of Commerce is a nonprofit organization and has traditionally utilized the town office to create and print materials and hold meetings. Chamber volunteers are not considered town employees. 

Brandon Saucier, the town’s code enforcement officer and contracted town assessor, will be relocated to the former police chief’s office, to limit main office access to primary employees, Mulherin said. Select Board members, the town’s volunteer fire chief and other non-office employees also will not have a key to get into the main office.