Ashland council rules that towns can pick which services they pay for

2 months ago

ASHLAND, Maine — Two small towns that rejected paying Ashland for more services than they want now have choices to make.

About 50 people attended Tuesday’s Ashland Town Council meeting at the Ashland Recreation Center. 

Several area communities pay subsidies to Ashland for fire, ambulance, recreation and library services as a package. Masardis and Portage Lake residents rejected the payments at annual town meetings in March because they wanted the option to choose what services they pay for. 

Tuesday’s meeting was the first time the communities have come together to discuss the shared services. Some protested the bundled pricing, saying costs were too high, while others maintained all the towns should share the costs since they share the services. After hearing arguments, Ashland councilors voted to let the towns pay a la carte this year and work with leaders to craft a permanent agreement.

“Portage voted everything down, but we just want to come to an agreement,” a Portage resident said. “We understand everybody has to carry their part of the boat. We just want to figure out a way to do it collaboratively and feel like we’re not drowning.”

Several speakers contended they just wanted Ashland to come to the table and hear their concerns. 

A Masardis resident asked if Ashland would terminate their emergency services if they didn’t pay their subsidies, saying the subsidy arrangement indicates the services can be stopped in 30 days if a town votes not to pay.  

“If push comes to shove, that may be what [we] have to do,” Ashland Town Manager Cyr Martin said. 

If communities stop paying, Ashland would have to initiate state proceedings to discontinue services. If that happens, Ashland will then carry most of those costs and its tax rate will rise by 1 to 2.5 mills, he said.

ASHLAND, Maine — April 9, 2024 — Ashland town councilors listen to concerns about service subsidies from area residents during their April 9 meeting. From left are Council Chair Tyler Michaud and councilors Sherry Calhoun, Chris Bessey, Tom Raymond and Gayle Burby. (Paula Brewer | The Star-Herald)

“The fair thing to do is to chip in for all services. You can’t pay for just one piece of the pie,” another speaker said. “We all have to come together and pay the whole thing.”

Following the public comment period, councilors discussed whether to break up the services into individual pricing or continue with the package deal.

Ashland and its neighbors are a community and all should pay their share, but in the interest of working together it would be a step in the right direction to let the communities choose their services, Council Chair Tyler Michaud said.  

Ashland has been shouldering the burden of other costs that the subsidies don’t cover, Councilor Sherry Calhoun said. 

“I don’t want to turn anyone away. I look at the rec [and] the library, and it’s Ashland kids and Masardis kids and Portage kids,” she said. “It makes my heart feel glad, but it comes at a cost. Nothing is free.”

A request has been made to form a committee with two representatives from each town involved, she said. Councilors adopted the request.  

Having everyone come together is a start, Councilor Tom Raymond said. He suggested separating the subsidies for now and letting the committee craft a more permanent solution.

The council approved a motion to let the communities be able to pick and choose the subsidies they will pay for, with the caveat that if it becomes too costly for Ashland, cuts will be made. 

The committee’s first work session will be on Tuesday, April 16. 

Following the meeting, Portage Town Manager Corrine Routhier felt positive about Ashland’s decision.

“It’s a good step,” she said. “I think tonight the concerns were heard and I like that they’re open to having the work session and working with us.”