Joe's Journal

Town meeting

Ramblings from an old scribbler
Wed, 05/11/2022 - 7:15am

The New England town meeting is a time-honored practice, said Boothbay Harbor’s town manager as she began her annual presentation last Saturday.

Of course, Julia Latter is right. It goes back to the days of the Pilgrims, and this year, about 75 of the town’s stalwart residents showed up at the elementary school to hear town officials explain why they were raising taxes (up 5.28 %) and how they would spend the $5 million proposed budget.

Given the raucous recent history of out-of-state civic boards being turned into near battle zones, I was a bit nervous when I saw an ambulance parked outside the door.

Not to worry. The meeting was peaceful and quiet. Robbie Ham, the board chair of the ambulance service, was just showing off his new vehicle.

Nick Upham ran the show, adding meeting moderator to his list of town jobs that include fire chief, fire warden, fire inspector, shellfish conservation warden, Public Works foreman, and part-time policeman. FYI, he lost his job as harbormaster when they finally found another guy (Jeff Lowell) to take on those duties.

For the record, the only other local town official with more jobs than Nick is Southport’s Gerry Gamage, but that is another story for another time.

As Nick rolled through the list of warrant items, someone wanted to know how the town proposed to spend the $220,631 the feds sent us as part of the American (COVID) Rescue Plan.

Sure, said the town manager. The plan is to upgrade the town office by replacing the drafty windows, installing heat pumps to keep it warm, and constructing an exhaust system in the fire department bays where they park and maintain the big red trucks.

And, to the delight of many, she said the town parking lot shack will become a public restroom.

If you want tourists to prop up the local economy, a convenient comfort station is an appropriate use for federal dollars.

Note to newcomers: Past town select board meetings have seen citizens argue over how much local taxpayers were going to pay for public restrooms and who would buy the TP.

The idea of getting someone else, like the feds, to pay for the “comfort station” is a welcome addition.

Code Enforcement Officer Geoff Smith asked the town to modify the land use regulations to permit him to warn violators of problems, rather than just issuing a stop-work order. He said it would be used in case of say, inadvertent actions, like if someone built a new front door stairs over the weekend and planned to get a permit on Monday.

The current wording says he shall issue a stop-work notice when he finds a violation. The new wording says he may issue a stop-work order.

The meeting went pretty smoothly until they came to an article that defined art galleries, museums, or libraries. Then John Seitzer stood up.

John is the artist who along with his wife Lynn, runs the Joy to the Wind art gallery on Atlantic Avenue.

Why, he asked, does the town code require an art gallery to provide five parking spaces for patrons, when regular stores, including those that sell art, are required to provide four?

Then there was an exchange as someone said the code required stores to provide two spaces, and not four. Oh no, said John, it is in the code and I can show you … After a few back and forths, all sat down.

And that exchange was the hot topic of the 2022 Boothbay Harbor town meeting as the town's residents approved some 31 articles.

That is until Dr. Wendy Wolf suggested the town change the wording of certain town documents to a more gender-neutral position.

For example, she suggested that the leader of the town's board should be called the chair of the board, not the chairman, and the vice-chairman should become the vice-chair.

The town manager said some towns are talking about that change but the town code says it is chairman.

Dr. Wendy asked for a vote and the hands shot up on both sides, but in the end, that is another story for another time.

Oh yes, dear reader, state and national public health officials say Mr. COVID and his kin are still lurking around, and our hospitalizations are increasing. We are not out of the woods – yet.

Be well. Be safe.