Knox road plan goes off course for second year straight

Voters not willing to add decimals to unknown mil rate
By Ethan Andrews | Mar 11, 2019
Photo by: Ethan Andrews Knox First Selectman Galen Larrabee responds to questions about his road repair plan at the town's annual meeting March 9.

Knox — Not for lack of desire have Knox's roads gone unrepaired. In the past two years, administration has been the insurmountable hurdle.

Last year, selectmen didn't finish a plan for much-needed roadwork in time for the annual meeting and were rejected when they suggested taking it up at a special town meeting later in the year — some residents worried the supplemental meeting would be lightly attended, allowing selectmen to slip in wish-list expenditures.

On March 9, the selectmen presented a five-year plan but worded the request in such a way that residents felt they couldn't legally approve it.

Under the proposal, the mil rate would be raised by 0.0011.

Selectman Galen Larrabee explained that the surcharge of $1.10 per $1,000 of property value would net about $52,000. The money, in combination with the balance in the town's road account and revenue from plowing the state road, would pay for shouldering and ditching 17 miles of town roads this year and cover the cost of replacing culverts at Kenney and Old County roads.

Resident Basil Wentworth, who unsuccessfully challenged Larrabee for his seat on the Board of Selectmen, challenged this roundabout plan for road funding, saying that voters need to approve a specific amount of money. If the proposed increase were voted through, he said, selectmen would have to call a special town meeting to appropriate the money after the taxes were committed and the mil rate was set.

"How was you going to work on the roads this summer?" he said. "You've got to have an article for all this money."

Larrabee said he thought it was sufficient to have it explained in the road plan, which appeared immediately after the town meeting warrant in printed copies of the town's Annual Report. When it was pointed out that there was no article on the warrant to adopt the road plan, he acknowledged that it wouldn't work.

Voters passed over the article and later approved the standard $30,000 for road and bridge maintenance.

After the meeting, Larrabee said he had hoped residents would approve at least the 2019 portion of the road plan, which would have earmarked about $75,000 for roads and culverts and set aside money for future repairs. In addition to placing a surcharge on the mil rate, the 2019 plan would have required voters to authorize selectmen to draw from the $117,000 in the town road account. None of that happened.

"We'll get the maintenance done," Larrabee said, "but we won't get any of the rest of it done."

Larrabee said he plans to get a legal opinion about how to raise the money in a way that isn't contentious and bring the request back at a special town meeting later this year.

"They didn't understand how you can come up with it," he said. "All I come up with was I'd like to have .0011 more than whatever I have to have for taxes. That's what I was trying to get out of it. But you can look at it from the other side and say, how are you going to come up with that if you don't even know what it is? And I can understand that."

He acknowledged that the plan might have gone over better if he simply had asked voters to raise $52,000 from taxes.

"I didn't get it wrote right," he said. "I'm to blame."

About 30 people attended the annual meeting, covering 43 articles in just over two hours.

Residents debated whether to pay Thorndike Fire Department for protection, in light of most of the department quitting recently. Larrabee suggested splitting the money slated for Thorndike between Brooks and Freedom fire departments. Former Town Clerk Carol Hamblet said the fee is part of a contract that Knox must honor. Others agreed and the town approved the funding.

Voters added $11,000 to the snowplowing budget at the request of plowman Bo Spaulding, of which $6,000 is contingency funding. They added $4,000 to the town's administrative budget to pay for an assessor's assistant, approved $14,018 in funding for 22 outside organizations and defeated a request to continue with Sullivan's Waste Disposal & Recycling for trash collection. Selectmen said they want to go out to bid for a five-year contract.

In elections, Larrabee was re-elected over Wentworth, 61-55. First time town official Bruce Grass was picked for the second selectman's seat over Wentworth, 57-53. He replaces Lucas Bryant, who did not run for a second term.

By a vote of 48-70, residents rejected a ballot question that would have granted a liquor license to Hilltop Store.

Resident and state Rep. MaryAnne Kinney, R-Knox, speaks March 9 during her town's annual meeting. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
Moderator Harold Emerson presides over the annual town meeting in Knox March 9. Seated are Selectmen Bruce Grass, far left, and William Ingraham. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
Waldo County legislators, Rep. MaryAnne Kinney, R-Knox, left, and Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Waldo County, speak at the annual town meeting in Knox on March 9. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
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