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Town meeting

Electronic sign tough sell; TIF proposals generate debate

By Fran Gonzalez | Mar 29, 2021
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Residents at the Unity town meeting March 28 at Mount View High School gymnasium. One resident, still in her firefighter's gear, had just returned from answering a call.

Unity — About 45 people attended the Unity town meeting Saturday, March 27, in the Mount View High School gymnasium, where 61 articles were presented and voted on in just under three hours. Early on, the meeting was interrupted by a fire call, which sent Unity Fire Chief Blaine Parsons and his crew dashing to the station to respond.

Much debate ensued over articles requesting tax increment financing, an economic development tool that diverts a portion of taxes to help finance future development, which totaled $110,000. First Selectman Penny Sampson asked if an article requesting $18,000 for an electronic sign could be tabled.

Recently, she said, the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development had issued information regarding funding. She asked to hold the article until the next town meeting, which she said would take place in two months. In the article as written, selectmen recommended taking $12,000 from TIF funds, while $6,000 would be raised from taxes.

Before the vote to table the article, several residents spoke against the sign initiative, saying electronic signs are distracting and they would prefer to continue using the current sign at the Town Office, with plastic letters that spell out messages. One resident said an electronic sign would need to be turned off while the Town Office is closed, and another resident said she felt using TIF funds was not appropriate for this effort.

Still another resident called the TIF district a diversion of tax revenue from public funding and added, “Maybe if we didn’t have it, we could take better care of our Fire Department and we wouldn’t have a truck that breaks down half the time when called upon.”

“How about if we don’t table it,” a resident said, “and vote this article down.”

Regarding the current sign at the Town Office, Sampson said “We haven’t been updating the sign because it’s a pain.” The sign, she said, is warped and certain letters are missing and there is not enough room to post information.

“To update the sign, you might be wading in 6 feet of snow,” she said.

With a new electronic sign, messages could be updated from the clerk’s desk and let people know what is happening in town. Unity is a commuter town, she said. “We want them to see we have a market in Unity,” which would bring people to town and drive further economic development.

Larry King, chairman of the Unity Economic Development Committee, said the sign is for people who do not use the internet. “We want to boast about what’s happening in Unity,” he said, “It’s going to bring more people into town.” The electronic sign, he said, would be similar to the one at the church on Knox Ridge or the China Town Office.

Ultimately, residents voted to table the article until the next town meeting in May.

The next six articles under the heading “TIF” asked residents to approve $30,000 for building and maintenance of ATV, snowmobile and hiking trails, $5,000 for beautifying the roads and landscape in town, $25,000 to improve sidewalks, $4,000 for traffic calming, $8,000 for marketing and $20,000 to put toward two grants — one a community grant, the other a marketing grant. Each article generated debate.

Sampson said as part of its traffic calming efforts, the town installed a flashing speed sign and a solar-powered pedestrian crossing sign and also hired the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office to provide extra patrols to the Main Street area which, she said, proved effective.

A resident responded, saying deputies patrolling the Main Street area by Unity House of Pizza “maybe shouldn’t park in the no parking areas.”

After much discussion, all six articles were approved.

Big-ticket items in Public Works included the summer roads budget, which remained mostly flat at $283,200, while winter roads increased by $3,135 to a price tag of $202,000 this year.

The town’s share for the Unity Area Regional Recycling Center came to $22,489, an increase of more than $1,000 over last year, and solid waste pickup also increased by $2,367 to $77,400. Landfill maintenance and monitoring increased by $2,000 to $4,110.

Under public safety, residents sided with the Budget Committee, approving a $7,634 increase in the Fire Department maintenance and operations budget, which now stands at $79,930.

In election results, Dan McCormick was reelected selectman for another three-year term with 125 votes. Write-in candidate Lynn Warman received 54, and Ed Indelicato received one vote.

The Annual Report was dedicated to Beverly Winship for her many years of devoted service to the town, and Leroy E. Stewart and Beverley N. Murdock were honored as distinguished citizens of Unity who died this past year.

Moderator Don Newell, left, and First Selectman Penny Sampson, sporting a unicorn headband, page through the Annual Report during the Unity town meeting March 28. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
Residents at the Unity town meeting March 28 at Mount View High School gymnasium. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
A resident addresses moderator Don Newell at the Unity town meeting March 28 at Mount View High School gymnasium. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
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