Westport Island residents approved the 60 articles before them at their annual town meeting Saturday, June 24, including accepting the donation of the former town dump, setting up various reserve accounts and agreeing to provide health benefits for town office employees.
The meeting also included the recognition and tribute to retiring select board member Ross Norton, who declined to run for reelection, and former road commissioner Garry Cromwell who resigned in September 2022.
Veteran moderator Chris Cooper, of Alna, conducted the three-hour plus affair with a firm hand on the gavel and his usual mix of patience and humor.
Voters spent nearly an hour debating a warrant article that would authorize the select board, on behalf of the town, to form a partnership with other municipal and quasi municipal employers to provide health insurance benefits for the town office staff, raising and appropriating $60,750 for the purpose.
After the article was motioned onto the floor, Westport Island resident Richard DeVries moved to amend the article to fund a stipend of the average hours worked per week, fund a family plan up to $15,000 and form an ad hoc committee to develop a formula to determine the average cost of a family plan for future years.
After about a half hour of debate a vote on the motion to amend the article failed.
Select Board Chair Donna Curry then motioned to amend the article, increasing the amount raised from $60,000 to $100,000. After another half hour of discussion, most speaking in favor of the amendment, the amendment and the article passed with little opposition.
Voters approved a $121,746 article funding compensation for town employees and officials, a figure representing a 4.8% cost of living increase. The select board opted not to take the increase for themselves. A motion to include the select board members in the cost of living increase failed due to the lack of a second.
Among other warrant articles, residents approved article 36, including one of the largest single increases in the budget, raising and appropriating $203,625 for snow removal and the procurement of sand and salt. The figure is a $38,680, or 23.45% increase from the current fiscal year.
Voters approved $5,000 as recommended by the select board, for the general assistance capital reserve account and $3,855 for various service organizations, including Spectrum Generations, Maine Public Broadcasting, ME MidCoast Community Action, Healthy Kids, and New Hope.
Before article 38 was approved, raising and appropriating $180,000 for the maintenance of town roads, newly elected Road Commissioner James Cromwell was asked about the plan for town road maintenance.
Cromwell said plans include ditching and culvert replacement on Fowles Point Road, Sortwell Road, and the addition of a culvert on Post Office Road; replacing four culverts on Bay Shore Road along with ditching and addition of finished gravel, and repairs to potholed areas on the Junction, Willis Point, Sortwell, Fowles Point, Bakers, and the West Shore roads.
Article 43, establishing a fire department capital reserve account with $35,000 was approved after Westport Fire Chief Stacy Hutchison said the funds would be used for capital projects, such as replacement vehicles, water cisterns, and items that would fall outside the normal operational costs.
Voters also agreed to raise and appropriate $69,000 for the Westport Volunteer Fire Department, a figure presenting a $7,000, or 11.29% increase.
The first article on the warrant, raising and appropriating $5,870 for the seventh of 10 annual payments for the Squam Creek Preserve Loan, and Article 4 appropriating $346,497.30 in revenues from tax interest collected, lien fees; tree growth reimbursement, bank interest, and $313,000 from unallocated surplus, to reduced the amount to be collected by taxation passed without discussion.
Article 53, to see if the town will allow a committee to pursue the creation of a community recreational area using property already owned by the town was amended to include language allowing the town to accept donations for the project.
Article 60, to authorize the select board to use overdrafts, not to exceed $15,000, that occur in town operations during the fiscal year was questioned by Richard DeVries, as to the legality of the amount. Select board member Jeff Tarbox said, “I don’t think we are going to be breaking the law.” The article passed without further discussion.
Other articles accepted with little discussion included accepting ownership of the former dump site; repealing the former shellfish ordinance, and adopting the new ordinance, and accepting and authorizing the use of $48,500 in Community Resilience Partnership Grant for the purpose of an island groundwater study.
Following the adjournment of the meeting, Town Clerk April Thibodeau swore in the new elected town officials, Select Board Member Liza Jonassen, RSU 12 School Board of Trustees Member Richard DeVries, and Road Commissioner James “Jim” Cromwell.
Westport Volunteer Fire Department members served hot dogs and drinks at the town meeting, and several residents stayed on after the meeting adjourned to enjoy lunch with their neighbors and friends.