People swim Monday in Maranacook Lake at the Readfield town beach. An advisory question on town meeting warrant will ask if residents want to stop charging fees to residents to use the town beach. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

READFIELD — Town residents will soon take a midsummer advisory vote on whether they should no longer be charged a fee to use the town beach.

Voters casting ballots in the July 14 election will also decide whether to approve spending proposals that make up next year’s proposed budget, which is expected to result in a property tax decrease, and whether to allow a variety of marijuana-related operations in town.

Residents will vote by secret ballot on Readfield’s annual Town Meeting articles. Polls are scheduled to be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. next Tuesday at Readfield Elementary School, although town officials have encouraged residents to vote absentee before then to avoid potential exposure to the coronavirus.

Town Manager Eric Dyer said absentee voting, strong so far, could amount to 75% of the ballots cast.

The town beach is off Route 17 on Maranacook Lake, and the question of whether the town should charge residents to use the beach has been debated for years.

Dyer said the town has charged a fee to use the beach since the property was donated to Readfield in the 1960s or 1970s.

Fees collected at the beach total between $6,000 and $8,000 a year, which Dyer said falls short of what it costs to maintain it each year.

This year, the fees were raised from $40 to $60 for a family season pass, with debate over that change prompting some to ask whether the town should charge residents to use public property.

“That led to a discussion of why do we have a private beach that’s on town property, with some saying, ‘Shouldn’t it be like ballfields and trails with public access?’ So if you pay taxes, you have access,” Dyer said. “It’s a discussion that’s been going on for many years, really decades.”

The beach would still generate revenue from fees charged to nonresidents and from rentals of the property. But the majority of the cost of maintaining the beach would be covered by tax dollars in Readfield, which has a population of about 2,600.

Bruce Bourgoine, chairman of the Select Board, said town officials want to see how voters feel about no longer charging residents to use the beach. Fees would still be charged for the rest of this summer.

The Town Meeting warrant also asks is residents want to allow various types of marijuana operations in town, such as manufacturing, adult-use retail sales, medical caregiver sales or testing facilities.

Uses approved in individual articles would then be subject to regulations on how they would operate within the Readfield Marijuana Establishments Ordinance, which is also going to voters.

Dyer and Bourgoine said the town will present various marijuana-related operations to residents, who will choose which, if any, to allow.

The proposed budget items going to voters total $6.5 million, when combined with Readfield’s share of the Regional School Unit 38 budget, down about $480,000 from current spending.

Dyer said the budget is expected to result in a tax rate of $19.25 per $1,000 of assessed property value, down from $19.55.

He said the budget decrease is due in part to last year’s spending being up due to the fire station project and a new library roof. He also said town and school officials have worked hard to limit spending to help residents who might be struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bourgoine said officials in the four RSU 38 towns met with the school board and discussed the need to limit any increases to taxes.

As Readfield officials were about to wrap up the town budget process, the pandemic hit and town officials reopened the municipal budget to make changes, given the likelihood of reduced revenues and potentially reduced state funding.

Those changes included holding off on some paving and other road work until next spring, when it may be clearer what the town can expect in funding from the state.

One article, proposed as a safety net if the town were to see a major drop in revenues, would allow selectmen to make emergency spending cuts and use up to $200,000 from the town’s undesignated fund balance, an account generally made up of funds unspent in previous years and reserved for emergencies.

Selectmen have recommended voters approve the proposal, while the Budget Committee has urged it be rejected.

Voters will also act on an article that would allow the town to convert streetlights to energy-saving LED fixtures, add up to four new streetlights and enter into a new contract with Central Maine Power Co.

Dyer said the cost of the upgrade would be covered by savings from using the LED lights, with the full cost expected to be paid back within five years.


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