For the first time in Montville’s history, the annual town meeting was held in a neighboring municipality, as a result of a decision by town officials to close two community buildings because of safety concerns.

The meeting, which was held Saturday, March 30, at the Walker Elementary School in Liberty, drew a crowd of about 160 residents who were at times emotional and confrontational, as they sought answers from town officials regarding the use of public buildings.

Montville’s Board of Selectmen closed the Town House, where the meeting has traditionally been held, as well as the Union Harvest Grange Hall after reports from the state Fire Marshal’s Office cited a number of violations in both buildings in regard to fiberboard materials, the wood stove in the Town House and inadequate means of egress.

Neither building has been condemned at this time, but Second Selectman Cathy Roberts said the Fire Marshal’s Office recommended that the Grange Hall be closed to the public until the issues are resolved.

Roberts explained to residents that town officials considered setting up a tent outside the Town House, which has a maximum capacity of 90 people, in order to accommodate residents for the meeting. However, because residents would be split up between those inside the building and those outside, Roberts said, officials decided that wasn’t the best option.

Because no decision had been made by town officials to address the building issues, Roberts asked residents to take about 10 minutes to discuss possible options before holding a straw vote to get an idea of what avenue residents would like to take to correct the problems at the Grange Hall.

The three options presented to residents for the Grange Hall were to sell the building, repair the building or give the building back to the Union Harvest Grange. A resident also mentioned that the town could look at constructing a new community building.

Before any decisions could be made about the buildings, a special town meeting would have to be scheduled for a later date.

A question was raised about what would happen if the Grange Hall were given back to the Union Harvest Grange, but the group couldn’t afford to maintain it. Officials said that issue could be addressed by including language in the building deed that would return the Grange Hall to the town.

Residents also questioned why the $1,500 appropriated each year for the Grange Hall wasn’t used to address issues with the building, which Roberts replied to by explaining that the money was used for maintenance.

According to the town report, $889.34 of the $1,500 was spent in 2012 for the Grange Hall.

Another concern is that the town’s insurance policy through the Maine Municipal Association does not cover non-municipal events. Leslie Woods, a member of Montville’s Building Use Committee, wrote in an email that groups that wish to hold events in the building must pay for event insurance or be covered by their own carrier.

Woods said the committee began looking at some groups, such as the Boy Scouts, that may be covered by their national organization’s insurance, but homeschoolers would not be covered, nor would the Christmas craft fair.

“…but if someone trips on a board at a craft fair that is not a municipal event, is the town covered, because why did we allow an uninsured craft fair? Most towns are in the same predicament, but probably don't know it. We held events for years; decades, even, in complete blissful ignorance because nothing bad happened,” Woods wrote in the email.

Moderator Don Berry ended discussion regarding possible options for addressing the Grange Hall and a straw vote was not taken.

Town Office meeting room

Residents were asked if they would authorize the use of the meeting room in the Town Office for non-municipal events and to authorize the selectmen to set policy and establish a fee schedule with input from residents.

A motion to pass over the article was made, as well as a request, but not a motion, to have the vote conducted by secret ballot. The request was not recognized and residents voted 53 in favor to 41 against to pass over the article.

Town property funding

Discussion was heated when residents were asked how much money they would raise and appropriate for the repair, maintenance and general operation of town property. Included in the request was how much money would be allocated for the Town House and the Grange Hall.

Resident Bridget McKeen, who also serves on the Building Use Committee, motioned to amend the allocation for the Grange Hall by $6,500 to increase the total amount to $8,000.

McKeen noted that the additional funds would help the town develop a plan for addressing the issues with the building. A question was then raised regarding whether such a plan would cost the town additional money. Roberts could not give a definite answer to the question, but said she supported the additional funding motion.

The motion to increase the allocation to $8,000 was amended to require the additional $6,500 be taken from undesignated funds. A vote was called on the amendment, which failed.

A second motion was made to increase the Grange Hall funding to $6,000 — an increase of $4,500 — which would also be taken from undesignated funds. That motion passed by a vote of 32 in favor to 13 against.

Following the Grange Hall allocation, resident Sandy George made a motion to cut $7,000 from the Town House undesignated fund allocation. George said her reasoning for requesting the cut was that the town could not substantiate that it owned the building and she did not feel more money should be spent on a building that might not be town property. However, George’s motion failed when taken to a vote.

Secret ballot article

A handful of articles on the town meeting warrant were brought by citizen petition, which requested that the constable, fire chief and animal control officer be elected positions. However, state law requires that the animal control officer position be appointed.

The articles to elect a constable, fire chief and animal control officer were all passed over.

Residents were then asked if they would vote to change the town’s method of electing officials. Instead of doing elections from the floor during the meeting, the elections would be held before the town meeting and done by secret ballot. Residents in favor of the article argued that doing elections before the town meeting would allow more people to participate in the process.

The change would also mean that nomination papers would have to be taken out and returned by anyone interested in running for office and a forum could be scheduled for residents to meet and question all of the candidates.

Residents also noted that the secret ballot process could help address capacity issues at the Town House, because if people were allowed to vote on the town officials before the meeting, fewer people might attend the town meeting.

However, those who were against the proposed change argued that it was a good thing for the community that so many people attended the annual town meeting. It was also noted that people who wanted to vote on town officials should attend the town meeting.

G.W. Martin said he was concerned that many people were not having their voices heard because they were unable to attend the meeting or chose not to attend because they could be contentious. He also said that he felt the method of electing officials from the floor during the meeting no longer worked for the town.

Despite two motions from residents to move the vote, Berry refused, noting that the felt the article was very important and needed to be fully discussed.

As discussion continued, points were made by those against the article that switching to the secret ballot process would “politicize” the process, while those in favor of it said the town should be willing try something different.

When discussion ceased and a vote was taken, the article failed, 62 against to 36 in favor.

The town meeting adjourned at 5:30 p.m. after seven and a half hours of discussion on the 41-article warrant.

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at bholbrook@courierpublicationsllc.com.