SKOWHEGAN — Even as a bill to remove or relocate dozens of informational signs along Maine’s interstate highways was signed into law last week by Gov. Paul LePage, Skowhegan town officials said “No” to establishing a town ordinance regulating electronic or digital signs.
The proposed ordinance was the idea of former Town Manager John Doucette Jr. who asked the Skowhegan Planning Board to draft a local law to make it easier for business owners to operate their own electronic signs, Planning Board Chairman Don Skillings said.
Under state law, the message on digital signs can only change or rotate every 20 minutes, but there is a provision in the law to allow municipalities to change the timing of the messages with their own ordinance.
“In my opinion, the ordinance allowed people more flexibility,” town Code Enforcement Officer Randy Gray said. “It would allow people to rotate their signs every 10 seconds so you could change the wording every 10 seconds as opposed to every 20 minutes. You can work anywhere between that 10 seconds and 20 minutes, but right now if they are rotating more often than 20 minutes, they are technically in violation of state law.”
Under Skowhegan’s ordinance, a permit would be required to display one of these signs. Gray said there already are several digital signs in Skowhegan, including a new one in front of the Town Office building, which would have been subject to the ordinance.
Planning Board members brought the draft ordinance to the Board of Selectmen as a first step toward a public hearing on the proposal and inclusion on the Town Meeting warrant for a public vote in June.
Selectmen declined to act on the proposal, so it will not go to a public hearing or to the Town Meeting warrant.
The vote was 3-1 to not proceed with the hearing, with Betty Austin, the board chairwoman, the lone dissenter.
Selectmen Newell Graf and Steve Spaulding said they voted to drop the matter because they didn’t think Skowhegan needed any more rules and regulations.
“We are regulating ourselves to death,” Graf said. “Even though the community has always been against zoning, if we keep picking away and picking away, the next thing you know you’ll have full blown zoning. I’m just not convinced we need another new ordinance and something else to police.”
Graf said he didn’t like the idea of needing a permit for a sign, either.
Spaulding agreed, adding that he’d be willing to revisit the idea after some tweaking of the language of the ordinance.
“We really didn’t need any more laws or rules or ordinances. We probably have enough already,” Spaulding said.
Gray said an example of a digital sign with a rotating message would be a convenience store advertising three or four bargain offers, such as slices of pizza and sale prices on soda. Time and temperature displays at a bank would be exempt, he said.
Gray said one of the objections to such an ordinance was the fact that businesses would have needed a permit to run a sign.
“The selectmen chose not to have a public hearing,” Gray said.”
Interim Town Manager Greg Dore said the idea behind the proposed. “If you can’t have a public hearing, you can’t put it on the warrant for the people to vote on. It sounds like it’s not going to change in Skowhegan ordinance was sparked by complaints from the state Department of Transportation on reported violations of the 20-minute rule already happening. The ordinance would have allowed the town to change the rule to fit the needs of local businesses and still be within the law,” he said.