In a move that supporters say would protect the town against corporate exploitation, Monroe residents at the annual town meeting June 14 approved a new ordinance that denies the rights of personhood to corporations.

Resident Seth Yentes said the new law was similar to “rights-based ordinances” enacted in Shapleigh and Newfield last year in response to concerns from citizens that water extraction by Nestlé, the parent company of Poland Spring, was threatening a natural resource in the community.

Yentes said there was no corporation currently asserting itself in Monroe, “but it’s giving us a foundation to jump off of if somebody wanted to come in and extract water from our town,” he said. “… It’s really about local control and democracy and I think it’s a great idea.”

The “Town of Monroe Local Self-Government Ordinance,” as the new law is called, goes against state and federal laws that affirm and protect the rights of corporations as though they were people. This conflict was cited in an opinion from the Maine Municipal Association solicited by town officials, which stated that the ordinance overstepped the bounds of local governance.

The legal issues with the ordinance would “create serious doubt as to its validity and enforceability if approved by the voters,” the opinion read.

Some in attendance expressed concern that the ordinance would put further restrictions on businesses in an already harsh economic climate.

“There’s all kinds of laws against them already,” said Bill Nunn. “This doesn’t even make sense.”

Alan Beecher likened the restrictions to those placed on nonresidents at town meetings — they may speak, but only if residents vote to allow it.

Beecher said the ordinance would guard the town against challenges from Central Maine Power, which is owned, he noted, by a larger company, Iberdrola, based in Spain. The utility recently notified the town of approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for upgrades to CMP’s bulk transmission system. Beecher said the utility planned to do $17 million worth of work in Monroe.

Fire Chief Ken Clements said he didn’t know if it was a good ordinance or not, but he didn’t see the point of passing it if MMA thought it couldn’t be enforced. Beecher responded that MMA had the interests of municipalities in mind, but not necessarily the interests of people.

Yentes said he had heard from the other towns that had passed similar ordinances that legal expenses to fight a corporation could cost $400,000. By contrast, his sources said, the costs would be closer to $5,000 with the ordinance in place.

When his figures were challenged, Yentes called for a vote by secret ballot. The ordinance was approved 40 to 28.

In other business:

Resident John Helander challenged a $1,400 appropriation for the Arthur Jewell Community Health Center ambulance in Brooks, saying he had nearly died after calling the service only to find no one was available. Other residents spoke of similar experiences, but cautioned to have realistic expectations for the volunteer service.

“It’s just plain logistics,” said Clements. “You can’t drive from here to Brooks in 15 minutes … I’m sorry about your situation,” he said to Helander, “but we have the same situation with the fire department.” The line was approved in the full amount.

Winterport selectman Joe Brooks, who was in attendance campaigning for the House District 42 seat, said if Monroe was near the end of its contract with the Brooks ambulance, Winterport might be agreeable to providing ambulance service to the town in the future.

Social services came under some fire after residents were unsure what certain agencies did. Brooks described the services of Belfast-based Broadreach Family and Community Services, and several residents attested to the work of the organization and others. The town approved all social service agency requests appearing on the warrant, giving a total of $6,586.

In municipal elections, Jackie Robbins was re-elected as selectwoman and assessor, Town Clerk Lois Aitken was re-elected. Mary Lou Cantor, Squidge Davis, Rick Hillman, Abby Williams and Yentes were elected to the Planning Board. Clements was re-elected as fire chief.