Selectmen discuss ‘school finance issue’ in executive session

CSD trustees considering $5 million bond for school HVAC repairs and window replacement
Sat, 01/12/2019 - 8:45am

Boothbay selectmen held a 45-minute executive session to consult with the town attorney on “their rights and duties” relating to a school finance issue prior to their Jan. 9 board meeting. The board took no action following the session. During the regular meeting, selectmen were asked about the Community School District’s seeking a $5 million bond for HVAC repairs and window replacements.

Board Chairman Chuck Cunningham responded that CSD Trustees were holding a vote Jan. 16 on the potential bond. In two follow-up questions, selectmen were asked about a proposed community meeting about the school’s future regarding aging buildings and dwindling enrollment. “I’m in hopes that would happen, but it hasn’t yet,” Cunningham said.

A final question regarded the Trustees’ authority to seek a bond without voter approval. “It’s spelled out in the charter, but it can also be challenged by a petition where voters could ask them to reconsider,” he said.

In other action, the selectmen considered a member’s request for amending the budget process. Selectman Kristina Ford recommended a more extensive budget presentation. This is Ford’s second year as a board member. She doesn’t think the current method is conducive to understanding how municipal government operates or how tax dollars are spent. Ford wants department heads’ presentation to include more “line item” presentations she thinks will create more public participation.

“My point is somebody may have an interesting idea out there, and a more detailed presentation may result in somebody having some really good ideas,” she said.

Ford’s proposal included requiring all nonprofits requesting funding to explain their requests during a budget hearing. In past years, if a nonprofit, such as Boothbay-Boothbay Harbor Cemetery District or Boothbay Region Community Resource Council, requested the same amount as the previous year, the board didn’t require a representative to speak at the budget hearing.

Ford also recommended establishing an emergency fund for compensating residents for a weather-related event such as a tree knocked down during a storm. Selectmen also briefly discussed paying a retainer instead of an hourly fee for legal advice.

Cunningham understood Ford’s concerns about a lack of public participation, but he didn’t think the changes would result in more citizen engagement. “I’m all for transparency and participation. I’d love to see more people involved, but no matter what we do, I don’t think they will come,” he said.

Selectmen also discussed the membership of a joint committee of Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor residents reviewing options for expanding broadband internet into the region. The two towns recently earned a $7,500 Maine Community Fund Grant to examine potential broadband expansion. The grant will likely pay for a facilitator to lead the new committee. But Boothbay selectmen are undecided about the committee’s makeup. Ford recommended an unlimited number of members. But Cunningham and Selectman Mike Tomacelli favored a six-person committee (three from each town) with an at-large member added to break ties.

“It’s awfully hard to get something done with a large committee of 20 or so,” Tomacelli said. “I’d prefer five or six because I think it’s easier to reach a conclusion.”

Selectmen directed Ford to seek advice from Southport’s broadband committee, Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission and Axiom Technologies, LLC. of Machias about the direction of the two towns' joint venture.

Selectmen meet next at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23 in the municipal conference room.