SOMERVILLE — Voters chose to make the road commissioner post an elected position and authorized the town to seek grant funding to help create a municipal broadband system.

Residents at a special town meeting Saturday voted 32 to 28 to return the road commissioner’s post from an appointed to an elected position, to be elected each year. It’s a move, some residents said, would provide accountability because if a commissioner doesn’t do his or her job overseeing work on town roads properly, they can be voted out of office.

Resident Jeff Read said under a previously appointed road commissioner town roads were in horrendous condition. He said the commissioner lived out of town and couldn’t be contacted by residents, wouldn’t return calls, and wouldn’t show up to discuss problems with residents.

“At least if we vote someone in, we all know who this person is, and they know the roads, they know the people in town, and you can deal with them,” he said.

That issue was brought to a town vote by a citizen petition.

Mary Winchenbach told Summerville residents Saturday during the special town meeting that she uses medical marijuana to help with effects of epilepsy. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Residents at the approximately two-and-a-half-hour meeting also overwhelmingly voted to allow selectmen to apply for grants and contract with a private firm to create a town-owned broadband network. It would be installed along all roads in town and be available to any businesses and residents willing to pay for the service. An official said it would bring better access than is available in New York City.

First Selectman Chris Johnson told the approximately 70 people at the meeting the United States Department of Agriculture “ReConnect” grant, combined with state grant funding, would provide enough money for the small, rural town to build the system while taking on only as as much debt as he said could easily be paid back by users of the system. The monthly fee for the internet service would range from $69.99 to $109.99 a month.

“This is a pretty rare opportunity for us,” said Johnson, noting he learned of the grant program after Monhegan Island got grant funding from the same program last year. The grant requires a 25% match by the town. He said other grant funds could bring the town’s share down to about 12.5% of the total cost, an amount he said could be covered by users of the service.

Mark Ouellette, president and chief executive officer of Axiom, said the fiber optic system would be world-class, robust and reliable. Axiom is broadband company based in Machias that the town would partner with to create and oversee the system.

“Basically you’re going to have better broadband than you can get in New York City,” Ouellette said.

Asked if residents who are off the electrical grid could get the service, he said they could, and the fiber would be run to their homes along the ground. For residents who are on the electrical grid, the fiber would come into their home via utility poles.

He said if the town gets the grant and the project moves forward, the service could begin by fall of 2021.

Residents voted 49-15 to adopt a 25-page adult-use and medical marijuana business ordinance. Jim Grenier Sr., chairman of the Planning Board, said it would allow for four licenses in town — two for recreational adult-use retail stores and two for medical marijuana facilities — that would be restricted by town zoning to three small areas along Routes 105 and 17. He said people have been recreationally smoking marijuana in town for years and would not be impacted by the new ordinance, which he said only impacts retail operations and commercial growers.

Resident Mary Winchenbach said she has epilepsy that she treats with marijuana.

“I smoke it till the cows come home and it stops my seizures,” she said. “I think it’s going to bring a lot of jobs to the area. And cannabis is a lot better than pills and all that stuff.”

State Rep. Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, speaks to residents Saturday about running for Senate District 13 that includes the town during the Somerville special town meeting. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Residents overwhelmingly agreed to allow selectmen to enter into a power purchase agreement with Sundog Solar if they and the town attorney determine it will save the town money on electricity costs. The agreement would involve the town purchasing electricity from a solar farm proposed to be constructed by Regional School Unit 12.

The agreement could allow the town to decrease its electricity costs by providing credits against its Central Maine Power bill. Johnson noted the savings would likely be modest, though, because the town doesn’t use much electricity since it only has a sand and salt shed and the town office.

And residents voted to allow selectmen to refinance the $562,849.14 remaining on a road construction bond taken out in 2017, which selectmen anticipate could save the town about $32,600.


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