Southport residents needed almost three full hours to dispense with the 72-article warrant during their annual town meeting Monday, March 7.
Most articles passed with little debate. Discussion largely focused on two separate issues related to proposed amendments to the town’s bylaws.
After extended deliberation, voters rejected an amendment that would have allowed the tenant of the Cozy Harbor Wharf, currently a restaurant, Oliver’s, to apply for a spiritous liquor license.
Reading from a prepared statement, Oliver’s owner Paul Coulombe stressed his business’s sterling reputation and said his business provides “a place for the community to congregate” and is a point of access to the water for town residents, commercial fishermen, and recreational boaters.
Coulombe said he took the concerns of local residents seriously, volunteering to restrict liquor sales until after 5 p.m. He pledged to have his entire service staff certified via ServSafe training, and pledged not to serve more than three drinks per evening to any one customer.
“I want to assure people the liquor license will not impact this community,” Coulombe said. He said later that he sought the license less as a bid to make money, and more as a customer service.
“This is not an attempt to turn the restaurant into a tavern,” he said.
The question ultimately failed by a show of hands vote, initially 61-46. Amendments to town bylaws require a two-thirds majority. Coulombe requested a recount, and after some initial confusion, moderator Mathew Cole divided the room into yes and no voters. The final count was determined to be 71-37, falling one vote shy of the required two-thirds majority.
The other lengthy debate centered around a proposal to change three elected positions, the town treasurer, tax collector and town clerk, to appointed positions, placed under the authority of the board of selectmen.
The questions were presented in three consecutive, stand-alone articles on the warrant. The bulk of debate focused on the first question of the three, concerning the treasurer’s position.
Once the first question was decided by secret ballot, the two remaining articles were swiftly dispatched by voice vote.
While waiting for the ballot clerks to finish tabulating votes, Selectman Smith Climo began quietly singing “God Bless America.” In short order, others began to sing along until the entire body lustily sang to conclusion.
Speaking against the proposal, several residents questioned the wisdom of amending the bylaws, giving up their ability to directly choose their officials.
“Am I willing to give up this right, this check and balance, to the selectmen, who may never turn over?” Marcus Hutchins said.
Speaking in favor of the question, Selectman Gerry Gamage said turning the office into an appointed position would provide the town some protection from liability and give the voters a recourse short of an election.
“If, God forbid, there ever was an issue, we might be in a position to correct it,” Gamage said.
Incumbent Southport Tax Collector Donna Climo spoke in favor of the article. Climo said the job is exponentially harder today than it was at the beginning of her career. “It is very much more complex that it was 25 years ago,” she said.
Speaking in favor of the article, Selectman Smith Climo said the board was looking into a future when qualified candidates might be hard to find. He said it has been years since there has been a contested election on Southport and his own election to the board followed after he took out papers and went around and met a few voters.
“You didn’t have my resume. You didn’t know anything about me,” Climo said. “You just thought I was a good fellow.”
In all other business, with little discussion, voters approved a $956,164 school budget as proposed, accepting a decrease of $37,281 from 2015-2016.
Voters also approved almost all financial articles as proposed, including $251,225 for public works, $180,000 for the Boothbay Region Refuse Disposal District, $77,275 for town office operation, $33,888 for the ambulance service, $33,500 for the fire department, $30,150 for code enforcement, $30,000 for the fire truck fund, and $25,000 for the revaluation fund.
Voters approved two minor language amendments for the town’s land use ordinance and adopted an amended shellfish conservation ordinance.