Portage on path to resolve subsidy dispute with Ashland

1 month ago

PORTAGE LAKE, Maine — After a work session with neighboring towns and another planned next week, Portage residents are closer to resolving a dispute with Ashland over shared services.

Portage Town Council Chair Michelle Johnson briefed officials and a handful of residents at the council’s regular meeting Wednesday at the town office.

Ashland charges subsidies for fire, ambulance, library and recreation services as a package. Portage and Masardis residents voted against the bundle because they wanted to pay for only the services they want. Last week, the Ashland Town Council voted to let the towns choose what services to pay for. Johnson said it was the right move, but there’s still work to be done.

“The warrant articles will now be separated, so that’s good,” she said. “There’s some mud for us to thin out, still.”

Portage is an exception in that it has its own fire department, so it pays Ashland for the other three services.

Upon hearing from audience members at their April 9 meeting, Ashland’s leaders also voted to set up a work committee with representatives of each neighboring municipality to work out subsidy details. 

That will include what happens to excess subsidy funds. Portage and Masardis leaders have claimed Ashland transfers any leftovers from subsidy payments to its general fund. They believe any remaining money should stay in the accounts for each service.

“We have found that at the end of every year, there is carryover and they’re taking it into their general fund,” Johnson said.

Earlier this month, Ashland Town Manager Cyr Martin said excess money goes into reserve accounts for equipment, and that subsidies often don’t pay all the costs of offering services.

Portage Town Manager Corrine Routhier said she will discuss the matter with Martin and possibly the Maine Municipal Association. 

Johnson attended the committee’s first meeting on April 16 and plans to attend a second session next week. She is gathering population data and information from Van Buren, a community similar in size to Ashland, with outlying towns, for comparison, she said.

Councilors also heard feedback from resident Gary Chance, who objected to the way tax notices were worded. They should be less threatening and should also include information on assistance available to taxpayers, he said. 

Among other business, the council approved yearly appointments as follows: Routhier as town manager, tax collector, treasurer and road commissioner, among other duties; Margaret Pierce as assessing agent and interim code enforcement officer/plumbing inspector/health officer; Todd Allen as animal control officer; and Brian Cote as fire chief.

Routhier reported an anonymous donor has provided an electric vehicle charger that will be installed at the town office, and will also pay for its electricity for several years. Having EV charging capability will hopefully draw people to the community, she said.