Edgecomb’s education budget, a topic of much debate at previous town meetings, was unanimously adopted during the annual town meeting at the town hall Saturday, May 13. In the wake of a call of support from the Edgecomb School Committee, voters turned out in force to support the $2.68 million budget.
Voters passed all warrant articles at the annual town meeting, establishing a municipal and education budget of $3,638,959 for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, an increase of $28,918 or 0.8 percent. They also enacted a revised coastal waters ordinance that had been in use for almost a decade.
Efforts to amend the municipal budget of $951,036, by removing a $1,000 stipend for the Edgecomb harbor master and increasing the amount the town contributes to the Wiscasset and Boothbay Harbor libraries, failed.
After several years of consecutive tax hikes, the Edgecomb Board of Selectmen directed all town departments to reduce their budgets by 5 percent. With increases in tuition, special education, and retirement costs, the school committee was forced to eliminate a teacher’s position from the Edgecomb Eddy School and combine two grades into a single classroom for the upcoming school year, school officials said.
The committee was unable to reduce the education budget, but was able to keep the increase to $24,601 or 0.92 percent.
School committee members encouraged a strong turnout at the annual town meeting to show support for the school. The question of whether the town should close the Edgecomb Eddy School and tuition out all students, which has been posed at the previous two town meetings, was not asked this year.
Voters unanimously approved nearly all categories of the education budget, in addition to the overall education budget. A secret-ballot vote to approve additional local funds for education above what state law requires passed 74-5.
Resident Tom Boudin questioned selectmen’s directive to the school committee to reduce the education budget, noting that the salaries for municipal officials increased and, for the first time, Edgecomb included a stipend for the harbor master.
Boudin attempted to amend the warrant article for town officials’ pay to eliminate the $1,000 stipend for the harbor master, which he said would not be needed until the town has public access to its waters.
Several residents spoke in favor of the stipend for the harbor master, which is an important position given the amount of shoreland in Edgecomb’s jurisdiction, they said.
Edgecomb Board of Selectmen Chair Jack Sarmanian urged voters to reject Boudin’s amendment due to the amount of time the position already requires, and because the selectmen plan to ask the harbor master to conduct more mooring inspections.
Corning Townsend has served as harbor master for several years and devotes about 90 hours each year to the position, he said.
Townsend recommended that the town eliminate the stipend and pay him for the time he spends on the water fulfilling the responsibilities of the position. “It would be four to five times the amount, but it’d be more appropriate,” Townsend said.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected Boudin’s amendment and approved the warrant article for town officials salaries, which included the harbor master stipend and raises for the bookkeeper, tax collector, town clerk, and treasurer.
The raises for town office staff were the first in many years, Sarmanian said, and were given to “remain competitive and fair” to the staff that “work so hard.”
Some residents attempted to increase the recommended municipal budget by making a motion to approve the original requests from the Wiscasset Public Library and the Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library, which totaled $7,200 more than the Edgecomb Budget Committee’s recommendation.
The vote was too close for Moderator Chip Griffin to call, so a hand count was conducted. The motion to approve $8,200 for the Wiscasset Public Library and $5,000 for the Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library was ultimately defeated 40-29.
The warrant article was reconsidered and voters unanimously approved raising $4,000 for the Wiscasset library and $2,000 for the Boothbay Harbor library, the recommended amounts.
Voters also enacted a coastal waters ordinance, which the town had used for several years, but had never adopted. The ordinance was originally adopted in 2004, but underwent revisions in 2006 and 2007, which were never brought before the town for approval, Townsend said.
The revised ordinance shifts responsibility for a mooring from the town to the owner, which has been the practice of the harbor master and waterfront committee, Townsend said. “This is what has been running the waterfront,” he said.
Resident Nort Fowler questioned the definition of a mooring, which, according to the ordinance, could apply to anchors on a float or dock, which would create an extra fee for residents, he said.
Townsend noted the legitimacy of the observation, but encouraged voters to enact the ordinance.
Ordinances are “living documents” that change all the time, Townsend said. The ordinance review committee will continue to examine the coastal waters ordinance with plans to bring additional revisions before the town for a vote in the future, he said.
Voters also approved amendments to the land use ordinance that reflect changes in state law.
The previous evening, 34 voters turned out to elect Edgecomb’s municipal officials, Town Clerk Claudia Coffin said.
Voters re-elected Jack Sarmanian for a three-year term as selectman; David Nutt for a three-year term on the Edgecomb Planning Board; Deb Boucher to a one-year term as tax collector; Claudia Coffin to one-year terms as town clerk and treasurer; and Scott Griffin to a one-year term as road commissioner; and elected Heather Sinclair to a three-year term on the Edgecomb School Committee.