Two long-standing debates came to a rest at Alna’s annual town meeting Saturday, March 18 – a plan to modify Head Tide Dam and a consumer fireworks ordinance both met with voter approval.
Voters also authorized selectmen to conduct a revaluation of real estate, raise funds for the Alna Cemetery, and offer a life insurance policy to volunteer firefighters. Voters approved a municipal budget of $720,957 for 2017-2018, a $48,478 or 7.2 percent increase from the current fiscal year, with little debate.
There was no formal objection to the motion to enter into a contract with the Atlantic Salmon Federation to modify and improve the Head Tide Dam. The warrant article was overwhelmingly approved with only a single vote in opposition.
Voters broke into applause after approving the warrant article.
“I don’t know how much more we need to talk about this,” Head Tide Dam Committee member Ralph Hilton said in the discussion leading up to the vote. The proposal to modify the Head Tide Dam has been publicly debated for the past two years.
The current proposal, which the Head Tide Dam Committee and the Alna Board of Selectmen unanimously recommended, involves reconstructing the right abutment, which would remove about 8 percent of the dam.
The proposal met each of the town’s objectives, Hilton said. It adheres to the deed restriction that prohibits the removal or destruction of the dam; it improves fish passage, safety, and recreation at the site; and it protects the site’s historical integrity.
Resident Mary Bowers expressed concern that the project would affect the swimming hole at the site – one of the few places in town with public access to the Sheepscot River.
Hilton said the enlarged opening of the dam is not expected to impact the swimming hole.
Access to the area will be increased as a result of the project, due to the stabilization of the riverbank and improved stairs leading down to the area, Hilton said. The Atlantic Salmon Federation will fund the project at no cost to the town.
The fireworks ordinance provoked the most discussion at the annual town meeting, with residents asking if it would be possible to amend the permitting process in the ordinance on the floor of the town meeting.
With no amendment possible, the ordinance went to a secret-ballot vote and was approved 43-21.
The ordinance was four years in the making, resident Paul Lazarus said.
Lazarus initially proposed the ordinance and circulated a citizen’s petition that brought the question of whether to develop an ordinance to a vote at the 2015 annual town meeting. The statewide lifting of a ban on consumer fireworks left the regulation of fireworks “to local control, and I’m it,” Lazarus said.
Due to concern about fire safety, Lazarus said he would have preferred a ban on fireworks, but didn’t think it would be approved. Lazarus commended the Alna Planning Board for developing the ordinance, which he called “a good compromise.”
The ordinance requires a permit for the discharge of fireworks, and notification to neighbors if they are to be discharged within 300 feet of a day care, school, church, or pastured livestock.
Planning board member Beth Whitney spearheaded the development of the ordinance. “Whether this passes or not, please do this anyway,” Whitney said about the notifications. “That’s just being a good neighbor.”
Resident Fred Bowers was one of the signatories to the petition calling for the ordinance, he said. Bowers, however, requested an amendment to the ordinance that would extend the time period a permit is valid for.
In the current ordinance, the permit is only good for a day. Bowers proposed to make a permit good for a year. While voters could not amend the ordinance at town meeting, the amendment may be something for the town to consider “in the future,” Bowers said.
There were several questions about a request to raise $10,000 to extend the road in the Alna Cemetery and perform maintenance and repairs to headstones. There is currently about $93,000 in the cemetery trustees account, Second Selectman Melissa Spinney said, and she asked whether those funds could be used for the road.
The request from the cemetery trustees to raise funds “caught us off-guard,” Third Selectman Doug Baston said. The Alna Board of Selectmen plans to meet with the cemetery trustees to review the accounts and make sure the cemetery is “self-sustaining,” Baston said.
The request originated as a result of the town’s decision a few years ago to buy land to expand the cemetery, Hilton said.
The request will allow for the extension of the road at the cemetery to the new area and will get the cemetery “back up to snuff,” Hilton said. Voters ultimately approved the request.
Voters also approved a request to purchase life insurance policies for volunteer firefighters, which added $5,857 to the municipal budget. The appropriation will provide a $20,000 life insurance policy to each of the department’s 21 active firefighters, Assistant Fire Chief Roger Whitney said.
“This is about recruitment and retention in our department,” Whitney said. Due to problems with volunteerism, there is talk about regionalizing the fire service and going to a county system, which would be “more expensive for less service,” he said.
Alna voted to raise the call and training pay for firefighters to $15 an hour at the previous annual town meeting. Five new members joined the department in the past year, which is unusual, Whitney said. The department is now looking to provide longer-term incentives to retain its members.
There was little debate surrounding the proposed revaluation of real estate, which selectmen recommended to bring the assessed value of real estate in line with the market value. A house assessed at about $115,000 recently sold for $273,000, Baston said.
It has been about 15 years since the last revaluation, Baston said. The revaluation would help address the disparity selectmen have seen in the valuation and market value of “high-end property” in Alna, First Selectman David Abbott said.
Voters authorized the revaluation and voted to raise $20,000 to give the town enough funds to complete the work. Selectmen said they plan to solicit bids for the work.
Voters raised the amount on the warrant for the restoration of the Head Tide Church from $200 to $500 and approved all other appropriations. Voters also authorized the town to use $100,000 in excise tax and 80 percent of surplus from 2016-2017 to reduce the tax commitment.
Sixty-eight residents turned out for the open town meeting Saturday, according to town officials.
The previous day, voters elected Alna’s municipal officers. There were no contested races.
Melissa Spinney was re-elected to her second term as second selectman with 43 votes. Terry Ross and David Seigars each received a write-in vote for the position.
Doug Baston was re-elected to his second term as third selectman. Terry Ross and Cindy Seigars received scattered write-in votes for the position. Jeff Verney was re-elected as road commissioner, with Chris Cooper receiving one write-in vote.
Spencer Bailey received 27 write-in votes for a term on the RSU 12 Board of Directors. Mike Trask and Hilton received scattered write-in votes for the position.
The RSU 12 budget composes nearly 60 percent of the tax commitment, Hilton said, as the annual town meeting came to a close. He encouraged those in attendance to get involved in RSU 12’s budget process.
RSU 12 representatives will give a presentation to the Alna Board of Selectmen in April. The budget will go to an open meeting in May followed by a referendum vote in June.