Searsmont – The late Claudia Mercer served as Searsmont’s town clerk for more than 30 years, and at the annual town meeting Saturday, April 2, she demonstrated her continued commitment to the town with three gifts – including a bequest of $100,000 for the library.
Current Town Clerk Kathy Hoey addressed the crowd of about 50 voters who had gathered at Searsmont Community Building for the annual meeting to explain the nature of the financial gifts Mercer had left for the town.
Hoey said Mercer, who passed away in February, served Searsmont for as long as she did because she loved the people she worked with each day.
“She spent 30 years in Searsmont, and she really loved this town,” said Hoey. “She expressed that in her last will and testament.”
Hoey said Mercer had bequeathed $10,000 to Searsmont Fire Department to help pay for training and equipment, and another $10,000 to be applied to the same expenses for the benefit of Searsmont Rescue.
Last but not least, Hoey announced Mercer’s final gift to the town – a $100,000 boost for the Friends of the Searsmont Library Endowment Fund.
Hoey’s announcement prompted boisterous applause from the residents, and an emotional account of what it was like to work with Mercer from Carol Robbins, chairperson of the library board of trustees.
“Like many of you, I am overwhelmed by Claudia’s generosity,” said Robbins, adding that Mercer was always a strong supporter of the library and had served on the first board of the endowment committee when it was formed in 2007.
Robbins said Mercer was a valued member of the committee until about a year later, when Mercer was headed to Florida for a portion of the winter season.
“She felt it would be better if she did not serve long-distance,” said Robbins.
In response to the November 2008 letter Mercer wrote the committee to announce her resignation, Robbins wrote Mercer a response to thank her for her service. Robbins read excerpt of that thank you letter at Saturday’s meeting.
In the letter, Robbins offered Mercer her gratitude, and Robbins coupled her thanks with a compliment.
“You were incredible,” said Robbins, in her letter to Mercer. “We miss you.”
Because of the generosity Mercer showed the town, Robbins said she wished she could write Mercer another letter to let her know how much her gifts would mean to the community and to the library.
Were she to pen such a sentiment, Robbins said, it would read very similar to the thank you letter she sent Mercer more than two years ago.
“Dear Claudia,” said Robbins. “Thank you very much for all of the service you’ve given to the town of Searsmont. You were incredible. We miss you.”
Robbins’ comments drew emotional reactions from residents, some of whom blotted tears from their eyes as Robbins remembered the veteran clerk.
The entire meeting spanned two hours and 15 minutes, with Moderator Lee Woodward calling for a 10-minute break halfway through the meeting. In all, voters disposed of 37 warrant articles.
Residents demonstrated their own interest in giving when it came to article 13, which asked voters to fund a total of $7,800 to benefit 16 area social service agencies and charitable organizations.
One resident commented on the $2,200 the donations committee recommended as a contribution for Waldo Community Action Partners, despite the organization’s request for $6,005. She stated the organization provides a wide range of services to people of all ages, and because of that, she suggested the town dig deeper into its pockets to provide more funding for Waldo CAP.
Others in the audience, however, said they felt the $2,200 recommendation is in line with what the town could afford to give.
“The committee went through a lot to do this, I think we should leave it the way they’ve got it in here,” one woman said.
In the end, voters agreed to fund the social services requests at $7,800, a figure that included the $2,200 for WCAP. Voters also agreed to give Habitat for Humanity a $500 contribution, as was requested in article 14. The article stated that the organization submitted its request after the deadline that was set by the donations committee.
Barbara LaRoche, who serves on the donations committee, said deadlines are set for a reason and cautioned voters that approving the request would allow Habitat for Humanity to “circumvent the process.” Resident Joyce Chamberlin said she agreed with LaRoche.
Voter Michael Sirota said he also agreed about deadlines being important, but he said he had a slightly different take on the issue – that what Habitat for Humanity does for local people is important, too.
“I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt myself,” he said.
Voters overwhelmingly agreed to contribute $500 to the organization.
Article 18, which asked voters to approve major lines within the town budget, caused some confusion among voters, as there was a printed insert included in the annual report that indicated a change in the article as it was printed in the book. Selectman Bruce Brierley said there were three changes to the article that resulted from errors in figures that were not caught by town officials until after the official warrant was posted.
The three items that were changed, said Brierley, were the lines dealing with expenses for the community building, the emergency management line and the library. On the original article, the amount to be raised through taxes for the community building was at $38,600, but Brierley said the corrected figure was $32,600. For emergency management, Brierley said the line should have been zeroed out instead of showing that the town must raise $1,800. The final change, Brierley said, was that the library line should have shown a figure of $3,000, not $10,500 that was listed on the posted warrant.
Because of the changes, the total amount to be raised from taxes was $731,750, not the $747,050 shown in the original warrant – a difference of $15,300.
Once the figures were corrected, voters agreed to amend the original article to reflect the new numbers and approved the article as amended.
A short time later, Woodward told residents they would need to reconsider article 18, as the $500 contribution for Habitat for Humanity was not included in the all-encompassing budget article.
“You voted to give habitat for Humanity $500, but it hasn’t been funded,” said the moderator.
Residents revisited the article and once it was amended to show the town’s donation to Habitat for Humanity, the article passed easily.
During the meeting, residents also put in place an ordinance that would allow the town a year to craft an ordinance addressing commercial wind developments. Article 36 asked residents to approve a one-year moratorium on the building of wind turbines higher than 75 feet tall or more than 10 kW, to allow the planning board time to research and develop a Wind Turbine Ordinance for the town.
Sirota asked if the measurements shown in the article indicate the moratorium would not apply to wind turbines that might be installed by homeowners, and Planning Board Chairman George Sprowl Sr. said that was correct. Sprowl added there have been no permit applications for commercial wind turbine developments in town to date.
Residents approved the moratorium, with no additional discussion.
In other business, residents:
• Elected Don Corcoran to serve a three-year term on the Board of Selectmen;
• Agreed to eliminate an elected board of assessors and instead allow selectmen to serve in that capacity, and;
• Approved changes aimed at updating the town’s Land Use Ordinance.
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