LIBERTY — After 20 years of service to the town of Liberty, Town Clerk Gail Philippi stepped down at town meeting June 12.

She thanked the 80 or so residents in attendance for the opportunity to serve them and added that she will miss the job. Philippi said she will still be the registrar of voters and the 911 addressing officer. “I’ll be around,” she said. Selectmen awarded Philippi a Liberty Silver Dollar for her years of service.

Beth Cohen was elected the new town clerk, along with Hannah Hatfield as treasurer, Bill Gillespie as fire chief, and Tammy Reynolds as road commissioner. All positions are for one-year terms.

Residents voted to increase the municipal budget from taxation by 8.3%, or $74,552, over last year’s total. Last year’s budget was $896,863, while this year’s is $971,515.  The whole budget, including school and county assessments, went up by 6.1%, or $163,551. Last year’s entire budget totaled $2,657,815 while this year’s is $2,821,366.

An article making the clerk and treasurer positions appointed rather than elected generated some discussion. Second Selectman Carrie Peavey said the reason the article was in the warrant was that townspeople requested it. She added that there are no issues currently with either officer holding the positions.

Philippi said for the last 20 years, she and her husband had been dependent on an election to see whether she had a job each year. “People can vote for whomever they want,” she said, “You would like to have an experienced and qualified person,” to fill the position.

One resident said, “I don’t particularly care for the selectmen doing the job,” of appointing people for those two positions, while another person said they thought selectmen have a good process for vetting candidates. “It doesn’t become a popularity contest amongst the electorate,” she said.

Ultimately, voters approved making the clerk and treasurer appointed positions beginning in fiscal year 2023.

In a close vote for the second selectman seat, Andre Blanchard surpassed Peavey by a vote of 45 to 41. Blanchard said he is a 31-year veteran working in public service, with 20 years in the Air Force and 11 in the CIA. He currently owns and operates the 51 Main restaurant across from Liberty Graphics.

Some of the issues important to Blanchard are bringing high-speed internet to town, receiving the full 55% state share of the school district budget to reduce property taxes, and looking at ways to address the brown-tail moth problem.

Voters approved raises for several municipal officers, including an additional $1,226 for the town clerk, whose salary rises to $24,426; $385 for the deputy town clerk, now at $22,185; $2,000 for first selectman, now at $5,000; $1,200 for town administrator, now at $18,200; $1,500 for treasurer, now at $8,000; and $2,000 for the fire chief, whose pay is now $9,500.

One resident asked if the assessors agent’s wage could be reduced to zero, “as we did last year.”

First Selectman Melinda Steeves said job of assessor “is a huge one.” When selectmen were doing the job, she said, they had to give up every Saturday all summer long. “Currently we are at a fair and equal valuation throughout the town,” she said. “We want to maintain that.”

One resident said the wage is not dependent on the individual. “We could have a different assessor if people object to this particular person.” Another person said they believed in a fair and independent assessor who “doesn’t know me, … and assesses property on legalities, not on who they know or on sympathy.”

In the end, the amendment to bring the assessor’s wage to zero failed.

Regarding the Marshall Shores parking restriction, which limits parking to town residents, one voter argued that the problem of not having enough room for emergency vehicles on the narrow road has been corrected with fewer people using the popular beach. He suggested allowing nonresidents to use the beach during the week and having attendants patrol the area on weekends and holidays.

He moved to reduce a $2,800 line item earmarked for “parking management” to $1,400.

Road Commissioner Tammy Reynolds disagreed, saying with the addition of new picnic tables, she sees people there a lot, with or without parking stickers. Since parking enforcement was instituted, ”There are no more dirty diapers or condoms,” she said. “It’s a beautiful place.”

One resident said people from neighboring towns have told her they are losing their favorite place to summer and it is creating a tremendous amount of ill will. With 12 empty spaces recently, she said, “I saw a woman with a child from a neighboring town being turned away.”

Peavey said, “…You have to draw the line somewhere. …It was left to Liberty residents in the deed,” and added people can give their tags to others in neighboring towns to use.

“I would recommend sticking with what is working,” she said.

The amendment failed, as voters decided to continue supporting the parking restrictions at a cost of $2,800 a year.

Reynolds asked the town to pass over two articles, one dealing new town roads meeting specifications set up by a road committee, and the other to permit plowing on private roads with public easements that conform to town specifications.

Reynolds explained that while a public easement gives the general public the right to access the road, the town is not responsible for maintenance or repair.

Peavey said both Liberty Selectmen Andre Blanchard and Duane Jewett live on private roads and would have to recuse themselves in the decision-making process, leaving only one selectman to decide. “See where I’m going,” she said.

In response to this, one resident noted the two articles left the decision-making process to the selectmen instead of having a town meeting. She advocated keeping the process in the hands of residents, as they did last year at town meeting, when voters decided to either discontinue or stop plowing private roads.

“If we keep the decision in the hands of the voters,” she said, “we don’t have to worry about Select Board members having conflicts on these issues.”

Another resident asked how a road can be considered discontinued in the eyes of the town with people living on the road and the road being used by the town for lumbering, with trucks tearing up the road.

Reynolds replied that the road is “presumed abandoned,” not discontinued, and the town does have a woodlot there. “We just don’t maintain it,” she said. “We’ve never maintained that road.”

Further, she suggested the resident talk with selectmen about this particular situation. “There’s nothing anybody here can vote on,” she said, or “be able to be solved here.”

One resident said she obtained Maine Municipal Association’s published road guidelines, which state that towns are entitled to maintain public easements, but it is not required. She encouraged voters to pass the two articles by, so residents can decide the fate of the roads instead of selectmen.

Peavey warned about property taxes going up if private roads were to switch to having public easements, with the town maintaining them. “If you open that can of worms, and start getting public easements on their roads,” she said, “now you have even more issues going on about the road.”

A resident who lives on a private road in town said, “We probably pay some of the highest taxes in the city, because we have shorefront property, yet what services do we have?”

Town Emergency Management Agency Director Elise Brown said, “I think a lot of progress has been made, but it seems like we are not quite there yet.” She suggested letting the committee continue to work on a process that can be understood by all. “It’s too muddy at this point,” she said.

Voters ultimately decided to pass over the two articles, taking no action on them.

The last article that residents debated dealt with allowing selectmen to sell three of the town wood lots, including Pine Grove lot on Plummer Road totaling 21 acres, Perkins lot off Bolin Hill Road totaling 83 acres, and the Freedom lumber lot on Ridge School Road totaling 158 acres.

Reynolds said the lots were used when residents needed assistance with wood for winter heating in the ’50s and ’60s. “We’d say go up and cut yourself some wood,” she said. “Nowadays, with all the lawsuits, people can’t go up there. We are open to every risk if people are on our property.”

Reynolds said the town is better off selling the land and collecting taxes. The property would be sold in a real estate auction, she said, and would not be sold to lumber companies.

“The value of these properties is crazy,” she said.

In the end, voters approved the sale of the three parcels.

Liberty Town Meeting 2021

Liberty residents vote at the annual town meeting June 12 at the Community Center on Pinnacle Road.