Edgecomb selectmen concerned about new teachers’ contract impact on economic future

Board sending letter to school committee asking to talk with teacher union
Tue, 05/19/2020 - 1:00pm

With 70% of the town’s annual budget dedicated to education, Edgecomb selectmen are concerned how the new contract the teachers union and school committee have will impact taxpayers in the years to come. Four months ago, the new three-year contract called for an annual 2.75% cost of living increase. On May 18, Edgecomb selectmen voted unanimously to send a letter to the school committee requesting a discussion with union representatives to reconsider the terms. “That was fine and dandy four months ago, but a lot has changed,” Selectman Mike Smith said. “I’m just asking the school committee to ask the union to take a look at the recently ratified contract in light of what’s happened. I’m concerned our taxpayers won’t be able to handle or absorb this due to recent world events.”

Selectman Jack Sarmanian will draft a letter for Smith and Selectman Ted Hugger to review before sending to Edgecomb School Committee Chairman Tom Abello. The pandemic is also responsible for another dilemma selectmen face: Reopening the town hall. Smith proposed holding board meetings in the town hall as early as mid-June. The board approved buying supplies to prepare the downstair municipal offices for reopening at a later date. Smith expressed an eagerness to start meeting upstairs for board meetings in June. “I can hold off one more meeting, and not meet in the town hall on June 1, but I'd like to start meeting upstairs starting June 15.” 

Meanwhile, the town hall remains closed to the public, but selectmen looked at a series of small steps in hopes of preparing for a reopening. One step considered consists of changing the status of the two downstairs restrooms. The current status is one men’s and one women’s restroom. Selectmen are considering designating one for the public and the other for staff. They also considered marking the downstairs office space in six-foot intervals for social distancing. Selectmen approved buying supplies for disinfecting the building and other maintenance items designed for COVID-19 protection. 

The town may use funds received from Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission from a $2,000 ASK (assistance with specific know-how) Grant to make these modifications.  The town originally sought county funds to finance architectural costs to study the town hall’s future, but Sarmanian contacted the commission about allowing more flexibility in using the grant. Sarmanian reported the commission will allow funds to be used for COVID-19 related expenditures. Emergency Management Agency Director Bill Witzel requested town officials save any COVID-19 related receipts so he could submit them for Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement.

In other action, town officials still haven’t scheduled a date for the town meeting. The annual municipal election and town meeting were scheduled for May 15 and 16 before the pandemic resulted in health regulations prohibiting gatherings of 49 or more people. Maine rescheduled its primary election from June 9 to July 14, but Edgecomb hasn’t set a date. Town officials are hoping the state regulations will allow a town meeting in August prior to the tax commitment date.

The town report, minus the warrant articles, was sent to the printers. Previously, selectmen approved using a photograph of the town hall on the cover. The report is being dedicated to first responders and essential workers who served the public during the 2020 pandemic. Selectmen discussed a possible photograph for the dedication page, but public response to the proposed picture was mixed. Smith liked the photograph which he described as bringing “levity” to a difficult time. Hugger also liked the photograph and Sarmanian hadn’t seen it. But some residents indicated they didn’t like it. So the board is still considering what picture, if any, to use with the page.

Selectmen voted unanimously to allow Alternative Organizational Structure 98 officials to dispose of two retired school buses at no expense to local taxpayers. Town officials received a payment request for the two buses being stored in Boothbay Harbor. Selectmen didn’t know the buses were stored at a private business and the board was surprised at receiving a bill. This led to Smith proposing the “powers that be” dispose of the buses without a cost levied to Edgecomb taxpayers. “Who authorized taking the buses to Boothbay Harbor? I think this was a poor way of handling this. Why are we getting billed,  and I propose we allow the powers that be to handle this however they wish without costing our taxpayers anything.”

Selectmen will meet next via Zoom at 6 p.m. Monday, June 1.