CANAAN — Residents on Saturday rejected a proposed property maintenance ordinance after debate over whether the ordinance would improve the town’s appearance or represent unnecessary governmental control.

“This ordinance is not for me,” said Code Enforcement Officer Randall Gray during discussion on the ordinance at Town Meeting. “It’s for you folks. If you don’t want this ordinance in place, I’m still going to come work for you next week. Turn it down. If you truly agree it can help you, and many of you folks have talked to me about that over the years, put it in place.”

After about a half hour’s worth of debate during the meeting at Canaan Elementary School, the ordinance proposal was defeated 71-37 in a secret-ballot vote.

Had it passed, it would have put in place standards for property maintenance and required all properties to be “maintained to prevent unsafe and unsanitary conditions.” The ordinance also would have put time limits in place for property owners to clean up their grounds after a casualty such as a fire and allowed the town to charge penalties for violations.

The Board of Selectmen, which previously had asked Gray to revise a proposed version of the ordinance because they thought it was too strict, said Saturday they were divided.

Selectman Jeff Clarke said he was against it, Selectman Dan Harriman said he favored it, and Selectman Garrett Buzzell said he was unsure, going into the vote, about how he would cast his ballot.

Other residents spoke for or against the ordinance, which Gray said he brought forward not in response to any particular incident but because of ongoing complaints from taxpayers over the years.

Canaan Code Enforcement Officer Randall Gray, left, speaks to residents about a proposed Property Maintenance Ordinance alongside other town officials. From left to right are: Denise Stetkis, town clerk; Danielle McCormick, tax collector and treasurer; Selectman Dan Harriman; Selectman Garrett Buzzell; and Selectman Jeff Clarke. Staff photo by Rachel Ohm.

“I’ve been here for 46 years and I adore Canaan, Maine,” said resident Barbara Joseph. “I’m upset when I drive around and see junkyards. I find it really upsetting from a health challenge and from an aesthetic challenge. So even though there may be some challenges with what’s going on, it seems to me there is leeway. I’m not trying to sway anybody, but look around and see what there is. Would you like to see it more kept and cared for?”

Another resident, Mike Gilbert, said “we should just leave the town the way it is.”

Gilbert, who owns A Plus Auto and Towing, also expressed concerns about whether his business would be affected because he frequently has a large number of vehicles outside, including some that he is repairing or that might be unregistered.

Gray said auto repair shops and similar businesses would not be affected and the ordinance is “just meant to stop folks from starting these backyard junkyards.”

Rep. Joel Stetkis, R-Canaan, also expressed concerns about the ordinance not being worded clearly enough.

“Your definition of refuse or what you consider junk and what I consider junk is completely different,” he said to Gray. “One of the issues is, how do you enforce this fairly if I have a rusty swing set in my yard and John has a rusty swing set in his yard and someone doesn’t complain about his, but they complain about mine. It seems to be if you have a piece of property that’s more in view of other people, you’re going to be more in violation of this law than someone who’s not.”

Gray said he would not be the only authority responsible for enforcing the ordinance, and any decision he makes could be appealed to the Board of Selectmen. He also said the ordinance isn’t intended to punish people for minor things and the town isn’t interested in bringing people to court without a significant reason.

“No judge is going to bring someone in with a stack of rope, a washer and dryer or one bag of garbage out front,” he said. “It’s not meant to do that. It’s meant so you can keep your yard somewhat safe and sanitary so your neighbor doesn’t have to look at all these small pieces of junkyard throughout town.”

Gray said it’s “not uncommon” for communities not to have property maintenance ordinances, especially small towns, and such ordinances are usually met with resistance when first introduced. He said he plans to bring another version of the ordinance before voters next year.

In other news Saturday, residents approved a $1,289,521 municipal budget, an increase of $20,344 over the current budget.

The tax rate now is $16.30 per $1,000 of property valuation. A tax rate for the coming year will not be known until the county tax and school spending share are calculated in May and June.

During the meeting, residents cut a total of $116,728 from an original proposal of about $1,406,250 after some people expressed concern about property taxes.

The cuts included $11,728 from employee health insurance costs, $50,000 to be placed in a reserve account for adding to the town garage, $25,000 for road repairs, and $30,000 to put towards a reserve account for a new firetruck.

Road Commissioner Michael Robinson Jr. said he didn’t mind the cuts to the reserve account as long as his department still received $50,000 to put toward a new backhoe.

Fire Chief Troy Bowden also said the Fire Department “will be fine” putting less money into its account to replace a 1978 pumper truck.

“The sooner we (replace it) the better,” Bowden said of the truck, which is currently out of commission. “But we can’t cripple the town to do it.”

Residents on Saturday also voted 71-26 in favor of putting in place a new sign ordinance, which will allow for changeable, but not flashing, electronic signs.

Town officials said the change in policy was requested by a local business and the ordinance will allow for restrictions that are looser than state law and give them more leeway with their advertising.

The election of town officers is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday at the Canaan Town Office.

The three incumbent selectmen — Buzzell, Clarke and Harriman — are up for re-election for a one-year term. Michael Gilbert Sr. is also on the ballot as the lone challenger.

On the ballot for a Canaan seat on the School Administrative District 54 board of directors is an incumbent director, Dixie Ring, the current board chairwoman.

According to posts on social media, Scot Dunbar also has offered his name as a write-in candidate for the seat.

Dunbar is among those who want to revisit a recent vote by the school board to retire the “Indians” nickname for SAD 54 sports teams. Ring voted to change the name.

 

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected] 

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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