THORNDIKE — Most of Thorndike’s nearly two-hours-long town meeting March 19 was filled with lively discussion, with some strong objections to a few projects deemed “nice to do,” rather than “must do’s.” In the end, a majority of the 55 voters approved every warrant article, for a total of $682,503 to be raised from taxes for municipal operations in the 2022-23 fiscal year.

Deputy Clerk Debbie Ludden told The Republican Journal Friday, March 25, that in putting together a new spreadsheet system for Thorndike — adapted from one she used for years in Etna — she had not been able to come up with a comparative taxation-only number for the last fiscal year. She and Town Clerk Rose Hill, both new to the Town Office here, began that conversion process back in August, she said.

However, looking at it another way, the town’s total budget including county and schools amounted to $1,436,406 last year. If county and school numbers were to stay the same, she said, this year’s total budget would be up about $46,000 to $1,492,569, or an increase of about 3.2%.

As a result of actions taken at town meeting, town will spend:

  • $320,000 for salt, sand and plowing, of which $300,000 is to come from taxes and $20,000 from surplus;
  • $90,000 for town road maintenance, with $65,000 to come from taxes and $25,000 from surplus (motor vehicle excise taxes), with $25,000 of the total to be used for trimming and cutting roadside trees and brush, especially to get sun on the roads and aid in snow removal;
  • $68,450 for Town Office operations and equipment;
  • $64,121 from taxes for town officials’ salaries (excluding firefighters);
  • $42,900 for trash pickup and $8,000 for regional recycling;
  • $45,000 from surplus to improve and pave Depot Street;
  • $19,000 to improve and pave the Town Office parking lot;
  • $12,000 ($8,000 from taxes, $4,000 from surplus) for cemeteries;
  • $10,200 ($2,000 from surplus) for salaries for volunteer firefighters, plus $37,300 from taxes for fire protection services, $50,000 from surplus to the fire truck replacement savings account, and $8,000 from surplus for one set of self-contained breathing apparatus equipment for a firefighter.
  • $6,400 from taxes for animal welfare, largely to comply with state requirements that have grown increasingly complex, as well as rising costs for humane treatment of stray animals;
  • $4,800 in donations to nonprofits; and
  • $741 from Time Warner Cable revenue to purchase a “modest stone” to recognize all branches of the military in the veterans memorial started by Melanie and Trevor Cole outside the Town Office.

Meeting in their Town Office March 19, Thorndike residents vote to approve a warrant article at town meeting. Photo by Carolyn Zachary

Road maintenance and paving the Town Office parking lot and Depot Street elicited considerable discussion. Berry said most of the roads in question were dirt, in need of ditching, culverts and trimming. “We do one project at a time, tally the balance; another project, tally the balance,” she said.

Paving the Town Office parking lot drew a comment from a woman who said that in these economically stressed times, “we need to scrimp and save” and avoid projects that are “nice to do.” Berry and Selectman Jeff Trafton countered that existing grading, plowing and water retention problems with the parking lot were necessary to fix.

Paving Depot Street prompted a series of questions and comments. Trafton deemed it “an eyesore” in the downtown area that the town is trying to improve, with the Farwell Project and other efforts. Voters suggested less expensive alternatives, including adding signs, closing the road, spreading gravel instead of paving, and reducing the speed limit. Berry quipped at one point that the potholes serve as speed bumps.

The street is mostly dirt, with sections of crumbling asphalt. Some voters complained about contracting for more road work when Reynolds Road, which was to have been paved last year, was not. Trafton replied that the owners of the paving company died unexpectedly and the company could not find workers. He said Reynolds Road should be at the top of the contractor’s list this year.

“I know $42,000 is a lot of money,” Trafton said, “but (Depot Street) is a town road and we’re obligated as a town to maintain it.” Referring to discussions with Maine Department of Transportation, he said “pavement is the best option in the long run and will be cheaper” than gravel.

Berry said the project will eliminate a hump that is causing issues on the street. “It’s not just being covered up,” she said. “It’s being re-engineered and -structured.”

Questions about salt, sand and plowing led to discussion of a widespread difficulty in finding plow truck drivers. Trafton said, “We have been very lucky over the last few years. John Cranouski, it’s 16 years total that he’s done our roads, and I just want to recognize him — he’s done a great job! … But he’s made it very clear to us that he’s put his time in.”

Trafton said selectmen have called a number of area contractors. “They can’t find reliable drivers. … Several … don’t even know if they want to plow and sand anymore. They don’t like doing it, it’s a thankless job, they get a lot of complaints if they hit somebody’s mailbox, and they can’t find any drivers. That’s the overwhelming issue,” he said.

“The town of Freedom approached us about combining or them actually submitting a bid because they have their own Public Works,” Trafton said. Freedom has since withdrawn its offer because its Public Works department cannot find drivers, either. Thorndike will go out to bid next month and lock in as soon as possible, Trafton said.

A voter asked whether Thorndike would introduce the state’s Rapid Renewal service for vehicle registrations. Selectman Charles Greenberg replied that part of the $68,450 approved for Town Office operations and equipment covers computer upgrades to accommodate Rapid Renewal, so it is coming.

Following the meeting, Berry told The Republican Journal that on March 5 the town approved a wood frame, metal-sided building for its new salt and sand shed, as well as up to $600,000 in bonds for the project.

“The contractor is expected to break ground on this 30-year-long project the beginning of this spring, ” Berry said, “and it should be all ready, up and going by the time we get into putting our salt and sand up for the winter season (in) September and October.”

With respect to fiber expansion, Berry said the town has used the $20,000 it received from the county plus $80,000 in American Recovery Program Act funds, has received a commitment for a $100,000 matching grant from Unitel, its contractor, and has applied for $300,000 from ConnectMaine, to provide high-speed, fiber-optic internet service to the town.

“This is part of our build, rebuild and renovation of Thorndike,” she said. They expect to hear about the ConnectME grant by April 27, and if it is awarded, Unitel will commence work 30 to 45 days after that.

With a state Canopy Grant, she said the town plans to install northern spruce trees behind its veterans memorial at the Town Office, as well as birches and red cedars as a sound barrier between Route 220 and the office.

“So we have a busy year,” Berry said.

Selectmen Charles Greenberg, Doreen Berry and Jeff Trafton, from left, at town meeting March 19. At far right is moderator Don Berry of Belmont. Photo by Carolyn Zachary

In elections Friday, March 18, all three municipal officers were reelected, Berry for three years, Greenberg for two and Trafton for a one-year term.

Political candidates spoke before and during the meeting March 19, including Searsport Police Chief Todd Boisvert, a Republican, and Waldo County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jason Trundy of Lincolnville, a Democrat; Betsy Garrold of Knox, a Maine Green Independent, and Benjamin Hymes of Waldo, a Republican, both running for the District 38 seat in the Maine house; and Democratic Sen. Chip Curry of Belfast, seeking reelection to Waldo County’s seat in the state Senate.