The Norridgewock Fire Department building in March 2019. The department’s 2021 budget will reflect the costs of adding two full-time firefighters this year. Morning Sentinel file

NORRIDGEWOCK — The Board of Selectmen held a public hearing Wednesday to address ordinances — dealing with property upkeep, a needle exchange program and nuisance dogs — that will be put before voters at the annual Town Meeting.

The property maintenance ordinance drew the most response from those in attendance and will be decided by secret ballot at the Town Meeting.

Voters are expected to vote during the open meeting on the needle exchange program, which Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster said must be regulated, and the nuisance dog ordinance.

The open Town Meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, March 1, at the gymnasium at Mill Stream Elementary School.

Voting will take place between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Absentee ballots are now available at the Town Office.

Turnout was light Wednesday at the Mill Stream Elementary School. The full Town Meeting warrant and ordinances can be found at the town website — townofnorridgewock.com.

PROPERTY MAINTENANCE ORDINANCE

The building and property maintenance ordinance calls for a minimum standard to be set for the conditions of maintenance of the exterior “of all structures and the condition and maintenance of all grounds in the Downtown Area of the Town of Norridgewock, in order to protect the health, safety, general welfare, and economic wellbeing of the Town’s inhabitants, and to prevent nuisances from forming on said properties.”

The downtown area includes parts or all of Bridge Street, Clark Street, Depot Street, Ferry Road, Hotel Street, Main Street, Mechanic Street, Mercer Road, Perkins Street, Skowhegan Road, Stanley Drive, Upper Main Street, Wade Street, Waterville Road and Welch Street.

John Keister, who lives on one of the streets that would be impacted by the ordinance, spoke against it. He told the board that although this might not directly impact him, he worried about others who may not have the resources to maintain or pay for property maintenance.

“I see problems for the elderly that are not in my shoes,” Keister said. “They might not be able to afford to keep their house up to these standards listed here.”

Those standards include that all structures shall be maintained in “a safe, sanitary, and nonhazardous condition and in a manner that is structurally sound.” All means of exiting buildings must also be kept in good working order, and the exterior of structures must not be allowed to deteriorate to the point of being hazards to public health or safety.

The ordinance, if approved, will be enforced by the code enforcement officer.

After the town has received information on or identified a violation of the ordinance, the alleged violator will be notified, as will the owner of the residence.

The notice is to outline the nature of the violation, and corrections must be made within 30 days. If the violation directly impacts the health and safety of the public, the alleged violator has seven days to make corrections.

“If they’re gonna write an ordinance, it should be townwide and include everybody,” said John Ames, who lives on Depot Street. “If you’re going to write this, write it for the whole town. You’re singling out maybe 50 homes right now.”

Another resident questioned the legality of the ordinance and whether such an ordinance is permissible.

Town Manager Richard LaBelle said that question came up during a conversation with the municipal attorney on whether zoning is required to apply an ordinance to part of the town.

The decision to include this item as a referendum rather than at the open Town Meeting was also questioned by some community members. LaBelle said that because this is a controversial topic and the attendance at Town Meetings is usually low, the option for residents to vote through a secret ballot, either on Town Meeting day or through an absentee ballot, is important.

“The attendance at open Town Meeting is lower than what we would get through a secret ballot,” LaBelle said. “The feeling of the board is that with the pandemic, the opportunity to vote on something as sensitive as this that could be done through an absentee ballot was important.”

NEEDLE ORDINANCE

The town is looking to establish a needle exchange and disposal ordinance, based on a recommendation by Lancaster.

Maine Access Points, a nonprofit organization, provides syringe access services, overdose prevention education and naloxone distribution throughout rural Maine.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Lancaster said he was concerned about a third-party offering these services in an uncontrolled area. He said he has encouraged municipalities in Somerset County to adopt ordinances where this type of exchange is regulated.

By having this ordinance in place, he said, the town can work with other organizations, including the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office and Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan, to offer such services in a controlled environment.

The town of Skowhegan passed a similar ordinance last summer.

“I don’t believe that needle exchange, in the big picture, is a wise way to proceed, because I think at some level we’re passively condoning or facilitating that type of behavior,” Lancaster said. “Having said that, do we have a problem in the state of Maine? We absolutely do. Should we be working extremely hard to try to solve the problem or help those people in need? Absolutely.”

He added that the Sheriff’s Office has taken several steps to assist in efforts, including programs that offer resources to those seeking help with substance abuse.

“We’ve collaborated with Redington-Fairview General Hospital so that if somebody wants help the day they get out of jail, we’ll take them to a primary care physician.” Lancaster said.

DOG NUISANCE

The proposed ordinance addressing nuisance dogs seeks to clean up and update an ordinance that already exists on the topic.

The ordinance says a violation is classified as any dog engaged in “howling, barking, whining, yelping, crying, or other conduct sustained” for either an hour intermittently or three hours.

Ames said he opposed this, saying the language does not clarify times of day when this would apply and it opens the door to harassment.

Additionally, he said certain circumstances, such as fireworks, are out of pet owners’ control.

“I don’t see the need to rewrite it,” Ames said. “It just makes it an open door for harassment.”

As proposed, the ordinance stipulates any person found in violation will be fined $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second and $500 for the third.

TOWN MEETING

The meeting warrant includes 46 articles and $2,318,085 in proposed municipal spending.

LaBelle said anticipated revenues have been budgeted at $1,363,635, and the proposed municipal budget is $956,650 for 2021 versus $994,068 in 2020.

Big-ticket items on the warrant include a budget request by the Fire Department, which hired two full-time firefighters after approving the positions at the 2020 Town Meeting. This spending increase was anticipated when the positions were approved last year. Of the department’s $235,797 budget request, about $119,000 is directly attributed to the positions.

“I noted that the impact in fiscal 2021 would likely be in the range of $120,000-$130,000,” LaBelle said, adding this is the first year the town will raise money to pay on two new sewer bonds, which helped support recent facility upgrades. The previous sewer debt was retired in 2020.

With the renegotiated host agreement with Waste Management in 2019, the town is expecting an increase in revenues — $600,000 in host community fees — to help offset the 2021 tax commitment.

Aside from these items, the town manager said there are no major shifts in the budget request this year.

“I worked closely with the Board of Selectmen to develop a budget that continues to be sensitive to our taxpayers and the current economic conditions,” LaBelle said. “We strive to maintain a controlled municipal budget understanding that other entities will generate increases in our mil rate.”

Norridgewock’s municipal budget represents a 3.7% decrease from current spending, although LaBelle said “we must be prepared for the customary increases generated by the schools and county budgets.”

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