CHELSEA — Voters in Chelsea will have the chance next week to decide the level of funding for summer road maintenance and decide among three candidates for a selectman’s seat.

The Town Meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Chelsea Elementary School. The town holds its local elections two days before Town Meeting, on Tuesday, in conjunction with the state primary election.

At Town Meeting, the Board of Selectmen is recommending spending $302,688, while the town’s Budget Committee recommends $349,562.

That’s one of the points of disagreement between the groups in the town’s proposed spending plan. In all, the selectmen propose to spend $1,303,461 for the coming fiscal year, while the Budget Committee’s recommendation comes in a little more than $39,000 higher, at $1,342,823.

Chelsea’s tax rate now is $18.10 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. It’s not clear yet what the new rate will be because an annual townwide valuation has not been completed, but it’s anticipated to increase because of an increase in Chelsea’s share of the Regional School Unit 12 budget.

Town Manager Scott Tilton said the selectmen were working to keep spending flat.

A second point of difference is funding a part-time position for the Town Office at about $11,000.

Tilton said the selectmen would like to add the position, but the Budget Committee disagreed. “We’d either be looking at opening up five days a week or longer hours, if this passes,” Tilton said. “Or having another person here would make things run more smoothly.”

“Some think we can do the work with the current staffing, and others think we can bring on a part-time person,” said Rick Danforth, chairman of the selectmen.

The selectmen have recommended flat funding in the summer road maintenance budget, but the Budget Committee asked for more to help pay for the town’s share of replacing a culvert on Nelson Road.

“We’re still unsure about what the state will do for the school budget and revenue sharing,” Danforth said. “We said we can hold back some of the road money so that the amount the school is asking for this year (in property taxes) won’t hit as hard.”

The spending plan also reflects some costs that have decreased, including for the winter snow plowing contract, insurance, and solid waste and recycling costs.

To fund this spending, the selectmen plan to use $100,000 of undesignated fund balance and $26,826 from a school reserve account — what was set aside when the regional school unit was formed — to offset what needs to be raised as well as $350,000 in excise tax.

“The board has decreased spending,” Tilton said.

The Budget Committee is recommending using $25,000 from a woodlot saving account in addition to other sources of revenue.

Both recommendations will be discussed at Town Meeting.

Town voters also will be asked to consider approving a proposed site plan review ordinance, which the Chelsea Planning Board has been working on over the last year in a series of public workshops that were held in addition to the board’s monthly Planning Board meetings, with the Kennbec Valley Council of Governments’ help.

Under its town charter, Chelsea doesn’t have zoning. The site plan review ordinance was drafted to set up some town-specific criteria for new businesses to follow.

Chelsea Planning Board Chairwoman Andrea Smith said the proposed ordinance is just one piece of the town’s efforts to put together a economic development strategic plan.

“It shows we have some structure to what we’re trying to do,” Smith said.

As it appears on the warrant, the proposal spells out requirements for high-impact uses, for buildings larger than 20,000 square feet, to ensure they fit into the existing community. Home-based businesses and farming operations are exempt.

“Our goal was to have some sort of standard but not make it so cumbersome that we were impacting the very businesses that would be attracted to Chelsea,” she said.

As a result of public hearings, Smith said, the proposal was changed to define what level of review would apply to different sized projects. In the original version, a 5,000-square-foot building would have triggered a review. That was scaled up in the amended version to 10,000 square feet.

“That was one of the big things that people were concerned about,” Smith said. “A lot of these businesses are smaller, and (we’re) trying not to put more rules and requirements around them when they are really the backbone of the town.”

The larger buildings are the kinds that would have a greater effect on their neighbors, Smith said.


In the race for one seat on the town’s Board of Selectmen, incumbent Danforth is facing two challengers: Deborah Sanderson and Sheri Truman.

Danforth, 61, has served as a selectman since the early 1990s, with a break from 2009 to 2012.

“I’m running again because since 2012, I have been able to do proactive things for the town, instead of reactive things,” he said. “We have good momentum now.”

Chelsea has formed an economic development committee, and the town has hired a consultant to help shepherd the process of putting a plan in place, he said. And residents also are getting involved in the recycling initiative.

“We’ve always been reacting to embezzlement, child porn and harassment suits,” he said. “It’s nice being positive and being able to put a good foot forward in the town.”

Danforth was referring to three cases in the town’s recent history. Doris Reed, a former assistant town manager, was sentenced to eight years in prison, with all but four suspended, for stealing more than $250,000 in excise taxes from 1988 to 1992. Paul Beattie, a former town manager, was arrested in 1998 by federal agents on charges of possessing and receiving child pornography and town computers were seized. He committed suicide on the day he was expected to appear in court and enter a plea. Also, former Selectwoman Carole Swan is serving time in federal prison after being convicted in 2014 of three counts of extortion, two counts of workers’ compensation fraud and five counts of income tax fraud.

Danforth said town officials are starting to consider replacing the Town Hall and building a community center for Chelsea, which would give the town a focal point. So far, architecture students at the University of Maine at Augusta have drawn up a set of plans.

The town has relied on the elementary school in Chelsea for meeting space in the past. Now that it’s part of Regional School Unit 2, however, he said it’s no longer so much if a community school.

The current town hall is at a point that repairs are needed, he said, and it’s hard to have selectmen’s meetings there.

“I’d just as soon go forward with a new community center,” he said.

While it’s easy to fill a meeting room when something bad is going on, he said, the town is outgrowing its current building and a new building would address security concerns.

“This is a small town,” Danforth said. “I have been in this long enough to know that you can come in and want to make change, but the only way you can make change is if people are engaged and come to the meetings.”

Danforth is married and is the president of TOPS Club Inc., an international weight-loss group.

Sanderson, 55, a Republican who has represented Chelsea along with Jefferson, Whitefield and part of Nobleboro in the Maine House of Representatives, said that while she has reached her term limit in the Legislature, she wants to continue in public service.

Sanderson said she was asked to run for the board seat, and that it’s important for people to have a choice.

“There are some issues of concern to townspeople regarding some of the policy initiatives,” she said. “Those I am not going to talk about.”

Even so, she said, one of the concerning issues is the proposed site plan review ordinance. She said she wants to make sure Chelsea is more welcoming to new businesses, but as originally drafted, the proposed ordinance seemed to do the opposite.

“It had some highly restrictive setbacks, and some vagueness to the determination of who some of the decisions in the ordinance would be left up to,” she said. “The current select board is in support of the first draft. Chelsea needs to continue to have discussions regarding a site review ordinance. We need to be cautious how we go forward.”

Sanderson said she proposed the amendments that resulted in the version that’s going before voters at Town Meeting, but there are still other issues to consider.

“For a small business, there are a couple of places where a drive-thru could work beautifully but couldn’t go through because of site plan review ordinance.”

If she’s elected, she said, she would have a chance to work on that, knowing that Chelsea is a residential town and not a business town.

While she could have run for the Maine Senate, Sanderson said she has no desire to be a career state politician. Running for the Board of Selectmen gives her a chance to be closer to the people she serves, and she enjoyed constituent service as a legislator.

Sanderson is the general manager of Eastern Traders in Nobleboro. She and her partner have five children.

Truman, 44, is running for office for the first time.

She said she’s not a politician and has no personal agenda other than her wish to see her family and children continue to live in Chelsea unburdened by a tax bill that would force them to move.

“After talking to a lot of people and and seeing our recent public meetings, it’s quite evident that we have a board that’s not necessarily in favor of listening to the residents of Chelsea,” Truman said. “I think that needs to change.”

She also named the proposed site plan review ordinance as one of her concerns. While people at meetings she has attended have voiced their concern strongly, it’s still appearing on the Town Meeting warrant, she said.

“We had a similar plan put out to vote about nine years ago, and the townspeople by a large margin voted it down,” she said. “This topic was never brought back to the citizens to see if this is something they wanted to spend any time and effort on.”

Truman acknowledged that Chelsea needs to grow, but that growth is something all residents need to have a voice in.

She noted that not many people turn out to vote at Town Meeting, but she feels strongly that a three-member Board of Selectmen can’t run the town without input from the residents, who should feel that their opinions matter.

When the town has hot topics, she would like to get information out to all residents, whether they are on social media, they still read the Kennebec Journal, or the town would have send letters to let people know when meetings are, especially older residents, who might not use the internet.

“I’d like to bring common sense to running the board. What’s going to help lower the tax rate? I don’t know, but I am willing to learn. I can have a conversation. I can shake your hand and still have respect for you. That’s what the town is lacking and that’s what I bring.”

Truman is a service dispatcher. She is married and has three children, two stepchildren and two grandchildren.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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