Frankfort – An article on the warrant at Frankfort’s annual town meeting Friday, March 25, seeking the town’s support – in spirit, not in cash – for a proposed multi-turbine wind energy project atop Mount Waldo didn’t get much backing from the residents in attendance.
Article 8 would have authorized selectmen to issue a resolution in support of the proposed project qualifying for a state-administered renewable energy program. As soon as the article was read aloud by moderator Norris Staples, a motion was made and seconded to pass the article over.
“That means take no action,” noted Staples.
The article was on the warrant because of a proposal by New Hampshire-based Eolian Renewable Energy to erect four to six wind turbines atop Mount Waldo. On its website, Eolian bills itself as “a new kind of development company,” one that builds “local, clean energy projects where they are wanted.”
The company, which publicly announced its interest in Frankfort in a letter to residents dated March 1, also held a public information meeting March 17, eight days before town meeting.
Frankfort residents and others from around Maine with an interest in wind power peppered Eolian representatives Jack Kenworthy (the company’s CEO) and Senior Development Manager Travis Bullard with questions at the March 17 meeting – how close would the turbines be to residences? How much noise would they make? How would access to Mount Waldo be affected?
While trying to answer those questions, the Eolian representatives also talked about Maine’s Community-Based Renewable Energy Pilot Program (CBREPP), a program administered by the Maine Public Utilities Commission “to provide incentives for the development of community-based renewable projects.”
One of the requirements for a program to be considered for inclusion in the CBREPP is community support. To demonstrate such support, Maine law requires that an entity looking to participate in the CBREPP must provide “documentation of a resolution of support passed by the municipal legislative body or municipal officers, as appropriate, of the municipality in which the community-based renewable energy project is proposed to be located.” That requirement is what prompted the inclusion of Article 8 on the town meeting warrant.
After the motion to pass over Article 8 was made and seconded, someone asked if Bullard – who, although not a Frankfort resident, was at the town meeting – could speak.
“Travis [Bullard] had a chance to speak already,” said another resident, referring to the March 17 meeting.
Allowing Bullard to speak would have required a favorable vote from at least two-thirds of the voters in attendance, and when the request was voted on, it failed.
Someone asked selectmen for their position on the matter. Selectman Allan Gordon Jr. said Eolian had asked selectmen if they would sign a resolution in support of the company qualifying for the CBREPP, and that selectmen told the company they wouldn’t sign the document without authorization from townspeople.
Another resident asked selectmen if it was true Eolian had already asked the town for a tax break, and Gordon said that while the company has not submitted an application to build wind turbines on Mount Waldo, “they have mentioned they’d be interested in a TIF [Tax Increment Financing program].”
Another resident asked if authorizing selectmen to sign a resolution of support would put the town “on the hook for anything.” Gordon said no, it was just an indication of town support for Eolian to qualify for the CBREPP.
When the vote was taken, the motion to pass the article over carried by a very large margin. Eolian officials had indicated at the March 17 meeting that while they hoped for a favorable vote from residents at town meeting, they were prepared to proceed with the project even if the vote on support for them qualifying for the CBREPP was not favorable.
Another topic of discussion at the March 25 town meeting was the fate of the building the meeting was being held in, Frankfort Elementary School.
The RSU 20 school board has voted to close the school, but Frankfort voters could decide to keep the school open – if they pick up the tab for running it, an amount that would be equal to what the state determines could be saved by closing the school.
Although the state has not finalized that number, school officials have estimated it to be around $370,000.
Further complicating the matter is the fact that some Frankfort residents have called into question whether the board’s vote to close the Frankfort school was conducted properly.
Although there were no warrant articles directly related to the school issue, the subject came up several times. It was first referenced on Article 4, when townspeople were asked if they would approve going over the state-established LD 1 spending cap. Gordon said the budget as presented would raise a total amount of $189,924 in taxes, about $19,000 under the limit.
Gordon noted that figure did not include anything for social services (townspeople later approved giving about $9,500 to such groups, with about $4,500 coming from taxes). A motion was made to table the LD 1 article, prompting one resident to ask what would happen if the town later decided to keep the school open.
Such a vote would require the town to find an extra $370,000 or so. As the town report indicates that the balance in the town’s general fund as of Dec. 31, 2010, was $457,110.30, some (or all) of that additional $370,000 would all but certainly have to come from property taxes.
Gordon said the town could vote on the LD 1 question later in the year, if needed, and the motion to table the article for the time being was then approved.
When it came to funding the town’s two fire departments, one resident questioned why each budget had been upped by $1,250 from the year before. Several people pointed out it was due to increases in things like the price of the diesel fuel used in trucks.
The resident said she’d like to see a little bit taken off of each budget article on the warrant “in order to have enough money to keep the school open, if we get to a vote on that later on.”
When it came time to fund the town office building repairs and maintenance, one voter asked what the financial impact would be if the town office were to relocate to the school building, if it does get closed.
“At this point, they haven’t offered us the school,” said Gordon, referring to RSU 20 officials. He did note, however, that a report from Superintendent Bruce Mailloux did indicate the school building would be offered to the town if the district’s plan to close the school becomes reality.
Gordon also said if the town were able to become part of MSAD 22, that district’s plan would be to use part of the school for pre-Kindergarten classes (for 4- and 5-year-olds), and allow the town to use the rest of the space.
One resident attempted to make a point that she is concerned the town isn’t doing enough to fight to keep the school open, but Staples advised her that was beyond the scope of the article at hand.
In other business Friday night, Frankfort voters:
• Agreed to appropriate $2,000 “for the purpose of hiring counsel to assist in efforts to leave RSU #20 and join MSAD 22 or another adjacent school district.” Voters rejected an identical warrant question last year, after having approved setting aside $7,500 for the purpose. Gordon estimated the town had spent about $600 of that $7,500 amount raised two years earlier, in response to a question from RSU 20 board member Twyler Webster. In their letter in the town report, selectmen noted they were continuing to work “with the superintendents of M.S.A.D. 22 and R.S.U. 20 to accomplish moving the town from R.S.U. 20 to M.S.A.D. 22.”
• Agreed to take $30,000 from the town’s undesignated fund balance to reconfigure and rebuild one of the town’s ball fields near the town’s sand and salt shed. The purchase of some town-owned land by Central Maine Power prompted the need for the reconfiguration, Gordon said. He added that CMP conveyed some additional land to the town, enlarging the town’s property. However, the changing property lines meant part of the existing ball field would be on CMP property, prompting the need for the reconfiguration/rebuild. The $30,000 will also help pay to fence off the sand/salt shed, which residents said has previously presented a tempting place for children to play. The $30,000 will come from an approximately $66,000 payment made by CMP to the town for the town-owned land the company purchased.
• Debated what approach the town should take for doing road work. Selectmen had recommended appropriating a total of $142,000 for the town’s Highway Department, while the budget committee had recommended putting the work out to bid. One budget committee member said that recommendation was made to give people an option to talk about. Road Commissioner Earl Anderson Jr. held up copies of town reports from neighboring communities, which he said showed that it would cost more to put work out to bid rather than have town employees do it. As people discussed the bidding option, Anderson invited them to do just that because, “Then I’ll make some real money.” People eventually opted to go with the selectmen’s recommendation. Earlier in the meeting, Anderson received a raise, from $14 per hour to $14.50 per hour. One resident was heard to comment, “I wouldn’t want his job for $20 an hour.”
• As part of the discussion on articles relating to road funding, engaged in a spirited back-and-forth with Anderson about the work that he does as road commissioner. Anderson said no major capital projects were planned for the coming year, and that money would be used on various projects around town as needed. A couple of residents asked when work would be done on their particular road, implying the road had not been properly cared for. Anderson put the ball back in their court, telling one resident that until that resident put a culvert under his own driveway, there was nothing he as road commissioner could do to upgrade the road in front of the resident’s house. There was talk of perhaps establishing a road advisory committee, or having Anderson draft a list of planned projects. Gordon dismissed the former idea, stating, “I distinctly remember [voters at a previous town meeting] telling us to stay out of the road commissioner’s business.” Gordon said he believed a new proposal to form a road advisory committee would meet with the same fate.
• Scrutinized the town’s finances for animal control. Although Gordon made a motion as soon as discussion on Article 29 began to drop the requested $5,500 down to $5,000, resident Tonia Littlefield questioned a particular expense from the previous year. Littlefield noted the town report indicated the ACO’s cell phone had cost the town $871, and asked, “Who is he calling? Are the animals dialing him?” Gordon noted ACO Richard Crossman Sr. also serves as one of the town’s three overseers of the poor and deals with general assistance requests in that capacity. Gordon also noted his own cell phone bill runs about $100 a month, prompting Littlefield to reply, “Well, I’d get rid of it.” Following that discussion, residents approved the article, as amended by Gordon. On the previous article, an attempt to eliminate the ACO’s monthly stipend of $75 was unsuccessful. Town officials said it is a hard job, and others speculated it would be impossible to retain an ACO without a monthly stipend.
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