Searsmont residents cruised through three-dozen articles with debate mainly centered on how much the Board of Selectmen should be authorized to spend on costs associated with the withdrawal process from Regional School Unit 20.

The article regarding appropriating funds for withdrawal costs stated “to see if the Town will authorize the selectmen to appropriate funds from the undesignated fund balance to use to pay costs related to Searsmont’s withdrawal from RSU 20 and the establishment of a new school district, if needed.”

Following a motion to approve the article as printed in order to open the issue up for discussion, a point was raised that Belfast attorney Kristin Collins had estimated in the past that the towns should raise between $15,000 and $20,000 to cover costs. However, no motion to authorize the selectmen to spend that amount was made.

A resident then amended the motion to authorize the selectmen to appropriate an amount not to exceed $25,000 for withdrawal-related costs. Because there wasn’t a specific dollar amount presented to residents, a recommendation was made to authorize $500 to $1,000 for withdrawal costs. That recommendation was not made into a motion.

During further discussion, a question was asked that if residents authorize the selectmen to spend the money if that would imply that the town supported the withdrawal effort. Valerie Mank, who serves on Searsmont’s withdrawal committee and the RSU 20 Board of Directors, said she didn’t feel that article implied support for the withdrawal effort. She continued by saying she would vote to authorize the selectmen to appropriate money, noting if withdrawal is successful, the new school district will need money to get started.

Resident Chuck Hamm, who also serves as the chairman of the town’s withdrawal committee, further explained that the money would only be spent if it were needed.

However, residents were cautious to approve the article after several points were raised that the town doesn’t know the exact costs, and that there hasn’t been a public hearing held to discuss withdrawal.

After the vote was moved on the article, the motion to authorize selectmen to appropriate up to $25,000 for withdrawal-related costs failed. A second motion was made to authorize selectmen to appropriate an amount not to exceed $1,000. However, that motion also failed.

A motion to approve Article 36 as printed passed by a vote of 47 in favor to 7 against.

Town Budget

Residents approved an operating budget of $951,846 with $722,396 of that budget being raised through taxes. First Selectman Bruce Brierley explained that the town budget is down $12,000 from the previous year, but the total budget does not include the Waldo County budget or RSU 20 budget.

Brierley said the selectmen also discussed using some of the town’s surplus funds — about $750,000 — to off set some of the tax burden.

He also explained to residents that there would be a focus on the gravel roads around the town this year, which he said are in “terrible shape,” after a question was asked if the town has a road repair plan.

“We’ll do all we can with the money we have,” Brierley said.

Residents also approved two amendments to the town’s Land Use Ordinance. The first amendment addressed the definitions section of the Land Use Ordinance and included a definition for a private road.

The second amendment addressed the general application procedure of the Land Use Ordinance and specifically dealt with building permits.

According to the ordinance, building permits are valid for one year from the date they are issued; valid building permits without a substantial start that have not yet expired can be renewed up to two times without an additional fee; and applicants with expired building permits are required to reapply for a new permit and pay any applicable fees.

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