BELGRADE — Voters here will pick two members of the Board of Selectpersons at the polls, open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at the Town Office, as well settle several other town issues Saturday, March 18, including support for the town’s Recreation Department, library and specific agencies, including some that work on lake quality.
The election precedes the business portion of Town Meeting, which continues at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 18, at the Belgrade Community Center for All Seasons to determine other town business for the coming year.
Two men are running for a three-year term as selectman, incumbent Michael Barrett and challenger Scott Damren, son of Selectman Rick Damren. Scott Damren said he foresees no problem serving on the same board as his father. “We disagree quite a bit,” Scott Damren said.
Three people, Howard Holinger, Ernst Merckens and Jordan Stolt are seeking the other seat, which is for one year to finish the term of Cheryl T. Cook, who resigned recently to take up the post of town clerk, which she had held previously.
All the candidates, as well as two others who are running unopposed, attended a public forum Wednesday at the Town Office, answering questions — largely about taxes increases resulting from the schools’ budget — from fellow residents as well as moderator Dennis Keschl.
Barrett, 71, is seeking his second three-year term on the board and is currently its chairman.
“I feel I have more to contribute,” Barrett said. “I’m not finished with my service to the town.”
Barrett, who is retired from the food and beverage industry, has been chairman of the library board of trustees and chairman of the Board of Appeals.
This is a initial run for office for Scott Damren, 36, who is a full-time firefighter/paramedic with the city of Augusta as well as assistant fire chief in Belgrade.
Holinger, 70, has been chairman of the Budget Committee for five years and is a retired educator who taught more than 30 years in public schools in Lewiston before he and his wife retired to their formerly seasonal home in Belgrade.
Merckens, 53, had a private contracting business for more than 25 years and is now in property management. He is on a number of town boards, the Transfer Station and Recycling Committee, the Library Board of Trustees and the Board of Appeals.
Stolt, 24, is a real estate agent with Lakepoint Real Estate and a member of the board of directors of the Belgrade Lakes Region Business Group. She graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in political science and worked for former U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, in both his Washington, D.C., and Bangor offices.
The candidates agreed they would support a warrant article calling for the town to study the issue of withdrawing from the regional school district, although several said they would have to see the results of that study and gauge effects on the quality of education before making a decision about withdrawal.
Holinger, who has raised the issue in previous years as well, said the town pays a disproportionate share of the district’s budget because of the relatively high real estate values in town. The formula for those budget contributions is based 75 percent on property valuation and 25 percent on student population. Some Belgrade residents have thought that they might be subsidizing other towns as a result. Revisiting that formula is seen as one possibility for cutting the education costs that Belgrade voters pay.
“Belgrade is paying more than twice what other towns are paying to have kids go to the same school,” Holinger said. He also noted that it was studied previously.
Selectman Ernie Rice, who was on the committee studying the idea, said Thursday the board members thought they did not have enough reliable data to make a recommendation at that point.
Stolt suggested looking at the experience of other towns that have gone through the withdrawal process and seeing how it worked out for them.
Barrett said he was unsure that the amount of savings would be as high as some people anticipate, but added, “I’d like to see something done about cost-sharing.”
All the candidates agreed that it was important to protect the quality of local lakewater, the “economic engine” of the town, according to Keschl, and for the town to contribute to that in some fashion that involves the boat excise tax collected.
Holinger said he has seen a tremendous increase in the growth of milfoil in the stream where he lives. “Now I can’t get down the stream without stopping once or twice to dislodge the milfoil clog on the prop.”
Merckens added, “If it was a forest, we would manage it wisely. I think we have to do what we can to support these lakes groups that manage water quality.”
Running unopposed on the ballot are Kathy McKelway, 64, who is seeking a three-year term on the board of directors of Regional School Unit 18 — Messalonskee and China Schools. Debra McSweeney did not seek re-election. McKelway, a retired banker who worked part time as a foreclosure mediator with the state court system, finished one term on the board three years ago.
Maurice Childs, 65, is seeking re-election to a one-year term as road commissioner, a post he has held for more than 25 years. He also operates a private contracting business.
Also on Friday’s ballot are proposals to accept $495,873 from the Friends of Belgrade Lakes Village to fund upgrades to sidewalks and pedestrian lighting during the state Department of Transportation’s reconstruction of Main Street through the village. The project is scheduled to begin next year. Both the selectmen and the Budget Committee recommend approval.
Those boards have split, however, on another ballot question, which asks for $40,000 to be divided among four nonprofit groups working on lake quality programs, including erosion control and milfoil prevention.
Selectmen voted 3-1 against recommending passage. Rice said, “We didn’t feel it was appropriate to use tax dollars to fund it.”
He said $40,000 was the amount the town offered the groups in prior years.
The Budget Committee recommends approval, 4-0.
This year, selectmen included an article to be discussed during the meeting that would give those organizations $9,950, the amount of money collected in boat excise tax in 2016, and $9,950 from the Water Quality Fund, for a total of $19,900.
Both boards indicated approval for the contingency article.
Betty Adams — 621-5631