People pack up Saturday following the annual Town Meeting at the Skowhegan Fairgrounds. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

SKOWHEGAN — Pouring rain didn’t keep voters from gathering Saturday for the annual Town Meeting.

The meeting kicked off at 10 a.m. with Board of Selectmen chairman Paul York presenting Main Street Skowhegan with the Spirit of America award. In a unanimous decision back in February, selectmen said that the contributions consistently made to the town by the organization are continuing to improve the town’s revitalization efforts. Accepting the award on Saturday was Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan.

About 80 residents attended the pandemic-delayed meeting, gathering in the grandstands of the Skowhegan State Fairgrounds. Voters tackled 60 warrant articles, including the budget and ordinances.

Voters approved every article for a $12,577,960.50 budget. The spending breakdown includes:

  1. $1,628,815 for the police department
  2. $970,703 for the fire department
  3. $552,075 for other protection, which covers street lights, fire hydrants and animal control
  4. $155,621 for Health and Human services
  5. $630,413 for Waste Water and Pollution Control
  6. $912,817 for Solid Waste and Recycling

Skowhegan residents walk across the race track Saturday after attending the annual Town Meeting at the Skowhegan Fairgrounds. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The first item that voters discussed was the proposed funding for Public Works, both under Summer and Winter Roads Maintenance.

Under Article 9, which covers Public Works — Summer Road Maintenance, selectmen recommended $545,4356, whereas the budget committee recommended $574,022. Under Article 10, which covers Public Works — Winter Roads Maintenance, selectmen recommended 738,047, whereas the budget committee recommended $767,137.

When asked about the difference in recommendations from each committee, road commissioner Gregory Dore said that the public works department is looking to hire an administrative position. Dore is planning to retire in June 2021, he said, and the department is in the middle of several different projects, and having an assistant would make the transition for the new road commissioner easier. The funding for the position is broken up with a portion included under both summer and winter roads maintenance since the position is year-round. Some members of the community said at the meeting that the position is long overdue and has been needed for a long time, and ultimately, the articles were passed as written.

Another big area of debate during the meeting came from the request for funding from the Skowhegan Free Public Library. Its initial request for $235,000 was submitted before the pandemic. Due to the pandemic, library officials revised their request to $175,000. It was recommended by the selectmen and budget committee to allocate only $150,000, but voters decided to approve the entire $175,000 request after some debate.

Some community members felt that given the pandemic, voters should look at what the town can afford. Lynda Quinn said that of the approximate 9,500 residents that live in town, more than 16,000 people went through the library last year, and since the pandemic, the library has offered virtual programming and sent out over a thousand books with no restrictions through curbside pickup options. Others said that while this may be the case, the library continues to request additional funding each year and given the tough financial times due to the pandemic, the selectmen recommendation should be what is allocated.

Ultimately, a proposed amendment to reduce the $175,000 to $150,000 was rejected and voters chose to stay with the initial request of $175,000.

The last three articles on the warrant dealt with ordinances. There was some debate around the Consumer Fireworks Ordinance, which looks at allowing the town to regulate consumer fireworks. Previously, the town followed the state’s law for allowing fireworks. In the town’s ordinance, it says that consumer fireworks should follow the laws of the state, except that:

  • The use, discharge or ignition of fireworks will be prohibited within 100 yards of a building or residential dwelling without the permission of the owner or, in the owner’s absence, of an adult occupant of that building or dwelling authorized to act on behalf of the owner.
  • The use, discharge or ignition of fireworks is prohibited on all public property, including public parks and public rights of way, unless authorized by the Board of Selectmen.
  • The use, discharge or ignition of fireworks is prohibited on any day specified by the Fire Chief as presenting a high fire danger as identified by posting such designation on the Town’s website.
  • Clean up of debris left from use of fireworks shall be the responsibility of the persons who used said fireworks.

Christine Almand, Skowhegan’s town manager, crosses the racetrack Saturday after the annual Town Meeting at the Skowhegan Fairgrounds. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

 

Christine Almand, Skowhegan’s town manager, crosses the racetrack Saturday after the annual Town Meeting at the Skowhegan Fairgrounds. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Following the meeting, Town Manager Christine Almand clarified that under this ordinance, if you live in a more condensed area of town, those who wish to use fireworks would need permission from neighbors. There are some people that will not be effected by this ordinance at all.

The last article to be approved was the Needle Exchange Program & Needle Disposal Ordinance, which supports harm reduction through hypodermic syringe exchange. The goal is to reduce the threat of disease spreading through needle sharing during drug use.

Police chief David Bucknam explained this ordinance, saying that back in February a group out of Portland received certification from the Maine Centers for Disease Control to operate a needle exchange program in town.

This ordinance covers all equipment, products and materials that are used or intended for use in introducing a scheduled drug into the human body.

Bety Austin is helped down from the stage in the rain following the annual Town Meeting at the Skowhegan Fairgrounds on Saturday. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“I think every county should have some type of program like this that is being regulated,” Bucknam said. “It is an important part of healthy recovery and helps knock down some HIV, Hepatitis A and C-type transmission from people exchanging needles.”

By approving this ordinance, Bucknam added, regulations are in place for Needle Exchange Programs and needle disposal sites. Before passing the ordinance, he said, operations were typically done out of the back of vehicles. With the passing of the ordinance, no mobile exchanges are authorized in the town and there will be no place authorized as a safe or supervised injection site. Bucknam said at the meeting that the ordinance allows regulation on how the swap can be done and that it is recommended to do this to allow for safer swaps with guidance.

The ordinance also says that the facility, once it is up and running, will not be used for a “Safe or Supervised Injection Site” of any nature within the town, only to allow for a facility for the exchanges to happen with regulations in place. The operator of the facility shall provide maximum security of the site where paraphernalia is exchanged and of any equipment used under the needle exchange program as well as establish written security procedures. Accurate accounting of the number of needles and needles in use, safe disposal of returned needles and other measures are included in security procedures.

Additionally, needle disposal containers must not be visible to the general public, may only operate at a single, fixed and secured facility approved by the police chief and selectmen, and must not operate within 750 feet of any church, school, park, playground, library or day care center.

The full list of articles from the town meeting warrant can be found on the town’s website.


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