Harpswell voters will consider a $6.34 million municipal budget and five proposals to spend funds from the American Rescue Plan Act during the town meeting by referendum on April 23.
The ballot includes 25 questions and starts with Article 2. Article 1 concerns the election of a moderator, which will take place in person as the polls open.
The first seven items on the ballot have to do with the town’s budget. Article 2 encompasses most town operations, while the next six articles cover debt service and various capital projects.
The 2022 budget totals $6,337,339, an increase of $649,236 or 11.41% over 2021. The town does not expect an equivalent tax impact, however. Early estimates point to a 3% hike in Harpswell’s property tax rate, currently $6.76 per $1,000 of valuation.
The biggest factor in the 11.41% budget boost is debt service. The town’s debt payments are more than doubling, from $310,000 to $630,000.
The figure includes the first full year of debt payments for three projects: the demolition of the pier at George J. Mitchell Field, $3.5 million; the reconstruction of Grover Lane, Gurnet Landing Road and part of Basin Point Road, $650,000; and the first phase of construction at the recycling center, $450,000.
Another significant addition to the town’s expenses comes from a sharp uptick in costs for the recycling center and transfer station to haul away and dispose of the recyclables and trash they collect. Overall, the town will spend $110,084 more to operate the two facilities this year.
Capital projects on the ballot include $550,000 for the second year of the Basin Point Road project and $200,000 for the second phase of construction at the recycling center.
Of the $550,000 for Basin Point Road, $350,000 will come from property taxes and $200,000 from surplus. The town expects the job to cost about $600,000, but already has $106,380 set aside.
The $200,000 for the recycling center will come from surplus. The estimate for the second phase of construction is $600,000, of which $241,944 is on hand. Construction at the recycling center will likely resume next year.
Articles 9-13 on the ballot have to do with proposals to spend money from the American Rescue Plan Act: $90,000 to update the comprehensive plan, $46,000 for emergency services, $25,000 to improve the town’s website, $15,000 for an analysis of affordable housing needs and options, and $10,000 for a broadband consultant.
The proposals total $186,000, just a slice of the $519,000 the town expects to receive from the program. The town continues to gather feedback about how to use the funds.
The federal government restricts the use of funds from the $1.9 trillion stimulus package to five categories, with the intent to alleviate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The categories are public health; negative economic impacts; services to disproportionately impacted communities; premium pay; and water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.
Articles 14-16 propose amendments to the Shellfish Ordinance, Harbor and Waterfront Ordinance, and Basic Land Use Ordinance.
Perhaps the most significant change would allow resident shellfish harvesters who move out of town to retain their licenses if they meet certain conditions. The town’s harbor master has billed the amendment as a response to a “workforce housing crisis in Harpswell” that is pressuring clammers to move out of town.
The amendment to the Harbor and Waterfront Ordinance tweaks rules about access to and inspections of moorings, while the amendment to the Basic Land Use Ordinance corrects an error.
Articles 17-19 authorize the select board to enter contracts of up to five years for three purposes: to lease town property at the entrance to George J. Mitchell Field, home to Pammy’s Ice Cream Parlor; to provide for waste disposal; and to continue the town’s relationship with the Harpswell Community Broadcasting Corporation.
The last seven articles are routine items that go before voters every year and allow town government to fulfill basic functions. For example, Article 21 sets the due dates for tax bills and the interest rate for late payments.
Kevin Johnson, chair of the select board, said that the ballot does not include anything controversial or likely to drive high voter turnout, but maintains the status quo for town government.
The polls will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on April 23 at Harpswell Community School. Absentee ballots are available.
The select board opted for a referendum for the third straight year, deciding over the winter to forgo an in-person town meeting because of concerns about large gatherings during the pandemic. Johnson said the board hopes to have an in-person town meeting next year.
A grant from the Maine Humanities Council supports the Harpswell Anchor’s reporting on town government.