Searsport closes municipal buildings to foot traffic

By Fran Gonzalez | Mar 26, 2020
Source: File photo

Searsport — Selectmen approved closing the Town Office to foot traffic, along with all other municipal public buildings, including the public safety building and the library, until further notice at the March 17 board meeting.

“We realize that this is an inconvenience,” said James Gillway, town manager, “but the health of our staff and our residents is most important.”

A debate ensued about whether office employees should be paid while on leave, as in neighboring Stockton Springs, or they should be asked to use sick, vacation or family leave time.

If employees are uncomfortable with working because of the coronavirus, they can choose to stay at home and use sick or vacation time, or take time off without pay, suggested Selectman Mark Bradstreet. He added, “But not pay them for not working at this time.”

Selectman Linda Payson said she would feel offended if her employer made her use accumulated sick time. “This is not a situation any of us can prevent,” she said, and suggested paying the employees for two weeks. After that “they would be on their own,” she said. “But I think we should offer them something, to cover them.”

Gillway said there are five employees working at the Town Office, but other municipal employees, such as road crews, police and the ambulance service, will continue working regardless.

Ultimately, selectmen unanimously agreed to close all public buildings until further notice, allowing employees to use sick, vacation or family leave time if they were uncomfortable being at work, with the stipulation that they would be lenient about overages.

In addition, TGillway said, all public meetings, committees and boards will be suspended until further notice, following the recommendations set out by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gillway encouraged residents to use the town website to re-register a vehicle, ATV, boat, or snowmobile, and to obtain hunting, fishing or dog licenses. Transactions requiring office staff include new vehicle, ATV, boat and snowmobile registrations or re-registration of a vehicle whose registration has been expired for more than six months; real estate taxes, sewer paymenst, petition certificates, voter registrations, marriage licenses, and birth, death and marriage certificates. To transact with staff or set up an appointment, call 548-6372.

The 2.5% transaction fee will be reimbursed during this time, Gillway said. Interest accrued from March 18 through March 31 on sewer or tax payments will be deferred during this time.  Selectmen also authorized the town manager to expend up to $200 without a meeting, in case of an emergency.

In other action, Norman was nominated and elected as chairman of the Board of Selectmen, along with Mark Bradstreet as vice chairman and Johanne Moulton as secretary. Larry Clark was reappointed to the Water District board.

Selectmen approved taking out a $1,500,000 loan from Key Bank to cover the anticipated taxes. Gillway said he received bids from five banks and that Key Bank offered the lowest interest rate, at 1.49%. “This is probably the lowest rate we’ve seen in four or five years now,” he said.  And there is no penalty for early payment, he added.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Fran Gonzalez | Mar 27, 2020 13:25

The town office will be closed to foot traffic, but there will be staff working and available by phone.

Posted by: William Kulbe | Mar 27, 2020 09:38

I am confused about the pay issue for employees.  It is stated that if employees are concerned about working because of the virus, they can stay home and use sick time, vacation, etc. However, the Selectmen are choosing to close the offices so what choice is left to the employees?

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