WINSLOW — The Town Council took the first vote Monday to approve recommendations from the town’s agricultural commission on two applications, voting unanimously to retract previous amendments to both. Both votes were unanimous.
The commission had recommended that the council accept both applications for the first-in-the-state Voluntary Municipal Farm Support Program. In the program, the farmland owners agree to conserve their land for farming for 20 years in exchange for “support payments,” or some percentage of their assessed property taxes each year.
The commission recommended that the first two applicants, Wayne Hapworth and Steve and Russell Julia, receive 100 percent rebates of their property taxes for the approved pieces of land and structures. Chairman Steve Russell recused himself from the vote on his farm.
However, at the previous council meeting, councilor Ken Fletcher proposed amending the applications to fit a framework he thinks should be used for the program. His proposed framework would cap rebates at 90 percent of the assessed taxes for farmland, 75 percent for principal structures and 35 percent for “incidental” structures.
Additional information the commission provided after the February meeting showed that the property owners would not be receiving a full rebate of all of their taxes, Fletcher said at Monday’s meeting, which settled his concerns about the program.
“With that information, I am now comfortable with that recommendation,” he said, after he retracted his amendments.
The commission provided further information about the two properties which showed that, through the program, both farmers would be getting back less than 50 percent of the total property taxes they pay to the town.
“I think for the town of Winslow, the protection and the conservation of agricultural land and the open space can lead to a lot of sustainability and economic development for the town, and we appreciate your consideration,” said Kate Newkirk, the commission co-chair.
In other business, the council voted 5-2 to fail the first reading of an amendment to a town ordinance that would require annual registration for a business permit with the town each year with councilor Raymond Caron and Russell in favor. Businesses are now required to register the first year they open and pay a $25 fee for a permit, which would remain the same. After the first year, registration would be free.
The initial first reading was tabled in February after councilors questioned whether the registration would put an undue burden on businesses.
Annual registration will help the town keep track of which businesses have closed and which are open and owe taxes, Town Manager Michael Heavener said.
But councilors questioned whether those who aren’t paying taxes now would begin registering annually for the new ordinance.
“I’m not sure this will solve the problem, if the problem is we’ve got people who won’t respond to the yearly mailing and, on top of that, aren’t paying their personal property taxes,” Fletcher said.
Because the ordinance failed, it can’t be brought up for another year.
The council also voted to approve the first reading of an ordinance revising shoreland zoning. The ordinance was amended 6-1 to eliminate the volume measurement, unanimously to use square footage, unanimously to eliminate language about administrative appeals and 5-2 to hand timber harvesting in the shoreland zone over to the state with Caron and Russell opposed. Caron also opposed the vote on the ordinance as a whole.
Councilors also voted unanimously to allow Heavener to exercise the town’s put option with the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company, or PERC. The put option, which allows Winslow to sell its interest in PERC back to the company, was included in a settlement agreement between PERC partners and the Municipal Review Committee, which represents Winslow and other town’s solid waste interests. Winslow has a limited partnership ownership share of less than 0.5 percent, so it will receive about $27,500 by March 31, 2018, when the committee’s contract with PERC expires.
Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239