THORNDIKE – About 50 residents gathered at Mount View High School for Freedom’s annual town meeting March 12. Thirty-six articles passed with little dissent, but vigorous discussion of the town’s ability to address junkyard properties livened up the 2 1/2-hour meeting. Residents passed a budget that increases the amount raised from taxes by 9.7%, from $626,998 to $688,036, a rise of $61,038.

Former Maine Senate President Mike Thibodeau moderated the meeting. Select Board members awarded the Spirit of America Award to longtime Fire Chief James Waterman. Board members called Waterman the “purest example” of the Spirit of America Award, which is presented annually to a resident who exemplifies commendable community service. Waterman took the opportunity to formally publicize the Fire Department’s purchase of a new fire truck, parked outside the school for residents to view.

The most contentious article on the warrant asked voters to appropriate $20,000 from the town’s undesignated fund account, to be used at the Select Board’s discretion after going through proper legal channels, to “fund clean-up and removal of dangerous buildings or junkyards after a legal determination of statutory violations, in those situations where the land owner refuses or is unable to pay for said clean-up and removal.”

Select Board member Steve Bennett cited “eight to 10” buildings in the village area alone that he thought warranted application of this “clean-up” method, but would not specify which ones. He noted that this is not a duty the Select Board takes lightly, and that the dilapidated property issue is the worst it has been in the 42 years he has lived in town.

Freedom’s newest firetruck is presented to townspeople at the annual town meeting March 6. Fire Chief Jim Waterman is second from left. Photo by Tyler Hadyniak

Resident Trevor Ripley inquired if such forced cleanup is the selectmen’s place to mandate, and if inheritors of dilapidated properties were unfairly punished for involuntarily owning a property that needed cleanup. He suggested that dilapidated buildings be used for firefighter training purposes. Other residents, including Laurie Greeley and Shawn Perry, said if someone owns their property, only they should decide what to do with it.

“If you own your property, take care of it,” responded Bennett. He and the other Select Board members assured voters that the state statutes at issue provide fair due process procedures for affected property owners, and that Freedom would not be the first Waldo County town to make use of this statute.

Discussion continued for about 40 minutes before a resident moved to end discussion and vote on the article, which passed with five opposed.

The Public Works budget came with grave warnings. Price noted that the town was “falling behind in maintenance of (town) roads,” and that the $386,385 appropriation request — 23% higher than the $313,526 spent in 2021 — was a “bare bones” request. Bennett warned that the town would have to find new income streams, or face higher taxes, to keep up with town road maintenance in coming years.

Price’s son, Public Works Director Travis Price, emphasized this warning. He noted that the town is responsible for about 12 miles of paved roads, some of which have gone without repaving for 20 years. He warned that Freedom’s many dirt roads are literally and figuratively “sucking up” the town’s budget for salt and sand, and that the rapidly increasing price of gas will make maintenance more expensive during all seasons. He said repairing the town’s dirt roads would help increase salt and sand efficiency.

Slated for repaving are parts of Beaver Ridge, Rollins and Penney Hill roads. “We are just putting out fires and not being proactive,” the Public Works director said.

Residents approved with little discussion a General Government appropriation of $260,130 — 12.9% higher than the $230,323 spent in 2021. This increase was mostly due to a $13,000 appropriation for an “error and omissions” survey, to be completed by the code enforcement officer to correct errors in the town’s tax maps and property assessments. The state recommends an error and omissions survey every 10 years.

Residents also approved $9,000 for Public Safety, up 21% from $7,428 in 2021; $4,200 for the Freedom Recreation Committee, an increase of 6.5% from $3,943 the year before; $48,753 for Solid Waste Management, Recycling and Spring Cleanup, down from $55,569 in 2021, a drop of 12.2%; $32,480 for the Freedom Volunteer Fire Department, up 12.5% from the previous year’s $28,864; $4,700 for Town Cemetery maintenance, a jump of 79.5% from 2618 in 2021; and $2,000 to repair and improve the Sandy Pond Dam and Boat Landing, for which no money was appropriated the previous year.

In other business, Select Board member Elaine Higgins updated residents on the Southwestern Waldo County Broadband Coalition’s progress in bringing reliable high-speed internet to Freedom and surrounding towns. Higgins reported that the coalition was close to contracting for a feasibility study and had secured funding to continue advocacy and community outreach.

The town also heard a proposal, from Freedom Community Historical Society President Wilson Hess, to increase the town appropriation to the society from a proposed $2,300, to $2,800. Hess explained that the town historically appropriated $2,800 for the society. He explained that the society had been active in 2021, with about $28,000 of restoration done on Keen Hall, and an estimated $30,000 worth of work to be done in 2022. In the closest vote of the meeting, residents approved increasing the town’s FCHS appropriation by a 19-14 vote.

At the top of the meeting, Waldo County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jason Trundy, Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Curtis and State Sen. Chip Curry, D-Waldo, addressed residents.

In addition, Thibodeau announced the results of Freedom’s March 11 local election. All local elections were uncontested. Sixty-six people voted – about 24% of the number that voted in Freedom’s November 2021 election. Longtime Selectman C. Ronald Price won reelection with 53 votes; Cindy Abbott won reelection as town clerk, tax collector, and excise tax collector; and Dyann Anderson was reelected treasurer.

Timothy Biggs, Phillip Bloomstein, Joseph Freeman Sr., Eleanor MacMakin, Renee Ouellet and William Pickford were elected serve on Freedom’s new Town Charter Commission. They will join Maryanne Bennett, Meredith Coffin and Chairman Tyler Hadyniak, who, per state statute, were appointed by the Select Board. The Town Charter Commission’s purpose will be to draft and present to town voters a “town constitution,” composed of new material as well as a consolidation of existing ordinances, policies and other regulations. The commission’s first organizational meeting will be March 28 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Freedom Town Office.

Tyler Hadyniak is The Republican Journal’s town columnist for Freedom.

 

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