WALDO — The town’s 8 a.m. pre-meeting was better attended, with residents more vocal, than the annual town meeting itself Saturday, March 26. Impassable dirt roads were the big issue again this year, and frustrated voters complained that the mud problems have not been adequately addressed, some said, “for 30 years,” while others said, “for decades.”

Opening the standing-room-only breakfast session, an East Waldo Road resident recounted at length his decades of problems with the road and his frustration with the response, which he said included dumping ineffective inch-minus (fine) gravel, rather than larger stone. He called for a special meeting “very quickly, not six months from now” to address the road problems as a group.

East Waldo Road is a sea of mud near Peter Velanzon’s driveway in Waldo. Velanzon spoke at town meeting March 26 about “decades” of unaddressed problems with the road during mud season. Courtesy of Peter Velanzon

 

“We hear you, we do,” First Selectman Kathy Littlefield replied. She said the Select Board is “tentatively” planning a special town meeting “soon” to consider “a couple of ordinances that we have to look at a little bit more closely and then decide where we’re going with it. … We will have a public hearing,” she emphasized, promising to advertise the meeting when a date is set.

Littlefield was referring to an ordinance for cost recovery from insurance companies for Fire Department emergency responses and another for a six-month moratorium on solar farms to allow the town time to draft an ordinance governing solar farm development.

Deep, water-filled ruts on East Waldo Road, Waldo. Courtesy of Peter Velanzon

Third Selectman Shirley Caler called attention to the expense involved in addressing dirt road issues, citing a July 2021 proposal from Gartley & Dorsky Engineering & Surveying, displayed at the back of the Community Room, with an estimated cost of $20,000 to $24,000 for an engineering study of Bonne Terre Road, which collapsed during mud season last year.

Caler said she thought Bonne Terre was the town’s shortest dirt road. “So you can figure on 20%, maybe more,” for each of the longer dirt roads, she said. She added that she would like to see studies done on all the town’s dirt roads “to find out just what can be done and what has to be done, because not every dirt road … has the same problems.”

A solution?

Wayne Marshall, who also lives on East Waldo Road, offered a possible solution. The Belfast city planner noted that according to the Town Report, the town spent about $46,000 on emergency repairs last year and suggested that the town might actually have the revenues for a “more permanent fix” than dumping stone to get vehicles through.

Referring to heart problems he had six years ago, Marshall said, “When you can’t have basic services, such as postal service coming through, ambulance being able to be depended upon, is a time where a more permanent fix is needed.”

Instead of spending about $45,000 a year for short-term fixes, he said, that amount, bonded over 30 years, “is somewhere in the range of about $1.4 million. … If you have a fund balance right now somewhere in the range of about $650,000, … a surplus of about 50% of what your annual spending needs are, … it may even be possible with existing taxation to be able to take something out such as a bond to be able to make that permanent fix, reduce what your long-term maintenance expenditures are, and make everyone who lives on these dirt roads a little more confident that they’ll be able to get out when they need to get out. And when they just want to get out.”

More concerns about essential services

Several other residents voiced their concerns that essential service vehicles — ambulances, fire engines — cannot get to their homes with East Waldo Road in its present state. One man said people are grocery shopping, parking on a firm section of East Waldo Road, and slogging through mud that tops their boots, lugging heavy bags back to their homes. Tow trucks refuse to enter the mire, so stranded vehicles remain stuck, others said.

Another resident said East Waldo Road is not graded so much as it is scraped, one side, then the other, in opposite directions, with the result that all the rocks are on the sides, the center of the road is lower, and water has nowhere to go. Yet another charged that the many thousands spent on temporary fixes over the years were money thrown away. Still others told of the high cost of repairs to their vehicles after pothole and mud damage.

A single voter expressed a different view, saying he had lived on the road since he was a child and had never gotten stuck. “It’s passable,” he said, and offered help getting groceries.

A woman said in 34 years, East Waldo Road this year is “the worst it’s ever been.” She said the mail truck “sank right to the axle” in front of her mailbox. “The whole area is not draining properly. … A long-term plan is the only hope we have.”

Another woman said she has lived on Bonne Terre Road for 30 years, and at her first town meeting 30 years ago “you would have heard the exact same thing.”

“What the heck is wrong? … And 30 years later we finally got an engineer involved? What are we paying for? I’m in my late 60s now. … If I have a heart attack or my husband has a heart attack and they can’t get down that road?” she said, visibly upset. “I’m going to be knocking on doors! I’ve had it! … A million dollars a mile? I’ve heard that for 30 years.”

Another woman wondered if the town could post East Waldo Road temporarily. Littlefield said she would look into that.

She said another municipality just floated a $2 million bond to fix its dirt roads at a low interest rate with a payment of $170,000 per year for 15 years. “The life of the roads that they fix with that money is barely 15 years,” she said. “They’re hoping for 20, so that they have some space in between. But most likely it’s going to be 15 years. You get your bond paid for, and you better have another one ready. …”

Running through other major projects the Select Board has been dealing with, Littlefield noted a “revaluation of the town of Waldo that should be done,” a water problem outside the Town Office, reconstruction of the town’s gravel roads, ditching, culverts, cutting the trees, cemeteries, broadband expansion … “so it’s not just the roads.”

At a recent Select Board meeting, Littlefield told The Republican Journal that a professional valuation of the town had not been done “in my time,” meaning her nearly 50 years on the board. Rather, she said, the selectmen, in their roles as town assessors, “ride around to all the houses” and make notes on changes. When a property is sold, the town also raises the assessed value to its sale price, which constitutes fair market value.

Moderator Walter Whitcomb, standing, counts votes during Waldo’s town meeting March 26. Photo by Carolyn Zachary

Elections, budget

Attendance dwindled from 70 to about 50 voters for the town meeting itself, which Town Clerk Sandra Smith called to order at 9:15 a.m. Voters reelected and raised the salaries of Treasurer Kellie Jacobs to $2,800 from $2,500 and Fire Chief Brian Walker to $2,500 from $2,000. They reelected Caler as third selectmen and raised the salaries of the second and third selectmen to $2,800 from $2,500. As a result, $2,000 was added to the $50,000 Town Officers’ Salaries line item, although the fire chief’s salary actually appears separately in the Fire Department Compensation line.

The resulting budget approved by voters for municipal expenses totals $168,145 to be raised from taxes, $96,000 to be appropriated from excise taxes, $22,000 from the state’s Local Road Assistance Program, $141,000 from surplus and $6,445 from federal American Rescue Program Act funds.

Last year’s total raised from taxes was $175,310.50.

In other voting, residents reelected Sandra Smith as town clerk, tax collector and excise tax collector; Tom Wagner as emergency management director; and Alvin Winslow, turning 90, as road commissioner. Smith plans to retire a year from now. Josh Marcouillier was elected to a three-year term on the Planning Board, Jill Lepow to a one-year term, and Bill Pieske to a one-year term as an associate member.

Rep. Jan Dodge, D-Belfast, who is running in a new district in November, told voters she will still be happy to help the Waldo constituents she is losing in the statewide redistricting.

New House District 38 candidate Betsy Garrold of Knox, a Green Independent, also addressed voters, as did Gabrielle Hymes, representing husband Ben, a Republican from Waldo who faces a primary contest in June for his party’s nomination for the District 38 seat. Hymes and Searsport Police Chief Todd Boisvert, running for sheriff, stopped by later but did not address the gathering.

Select Board members Tom Wagner, Shirley Caler and Kathy Littlefield, from left, with moderator Walter Whitcomb at the Waldo town meeting March 26. Photo by Carolyn Zachary