2015-06-19 / Community

Renovation bond passes, withdrawal fails

Election Roundup
By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

The votes are in and the result is something of a paradigm shift in local politics.

Kennebunkport will not withdraw from RSU 21, the school district will get $56.5 million to overhaul three buildings and, in Kennebunk, two sitting selectmen went down to defeat, with one citing his stance on the school budget as the reason why.

In Kennebunkport, an attempt to initiate the process of withdrawing from RSU 21 by raising $40,000 to fund a study committee failed nearly 2-to-1. Voters rejected the measure 524-928, with 64 percent opposed.

A number of residents, including outgoing school board member Robert Domine, have criticized the board of selectmen because all five members signed the petition that got the measure on the ballot. In social media, accusations flew accusing the board of being against public education.

“That’s absolutely not the case,” Chairman Allen Daggett said Monday. “We are all about education. We just thought maybe we could do better with less money on our own.”

For many in town, Daggett said, there was frustration over the RSU funding formula, which will require that Kennebunkport voters pay back 25 percent of the school building bond, or roughly $25 million, even though it will only get $5 million for Kennebunkport Consolidated School.

“I know, for myself, I was looking at it like, let’s take our school back and not have to pay that $25 million, or maybe we could put up a brand new school for that amount of money and have the issues fixed once and for all instead of piecemealing it.

“But it’s history now,” Daggett said. “The people have spoken and we’ll move on. I’m quite sure we will have some nice schools.”

The incoming chairman, Sheila Matthews-Bull, said Monday she hopes to work toward changing the RSU funding formula when it comes up for renewal in 2017, although she doubts Kennebunkport voters will ever be able to swing enough of their peers in Kennebunk and Arundel to their side.

“They see us as the cash cow in this deal and they’re like, oh, this is great, while we have little to no say,” she said, noting that the school budget is divided largely based on property values, while voting is based solely on population.

Like Daggett, Matthews-Bull rejected the notion that Kennebunkport selectmen are somehow aligned against the RSU 21 Board of Directors.

“Oh, please that’s one of those catch-terms — ‘Oh, you don’t like the kids,’ or, ‘Oh, it’s all about the children,’ that’s meant to make it look like we’re mean and we want to hurt people. That’s not the case at all. We were coming from the view that we have to take care of all of the factions of the town. It was our job to bring the issue to the voters to decide, and they have done that. We wouldn’t have been doing our jobs if we had ignored what was a very real concern for some working-class people in town.”

Meanwhile, voters in all three RSU towns — Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel — gave their assent to borrowing up to $56.5 million to fund renovations to three district school buildings.

Voter turnout was pegged by town clerks at 28 percent in Arundel, 44 percent in Kennebunk and 58 percent in Kennebunkport. That was good for a combined vote on the bond request of 3,932 (or, 62.1 percent) in favor, and 2,398 against.

By town, 58.4 percent of Arundel residents who wen to the polls approved the bond in a 488-347 vote, Kennebunk residents passed it with 63.7 percent in favor, 2,570-1,462, and residents of the Port gave their assent 874-589, with 63.7 percent in favor.

The results of the vote represent a win, win, win for the towns ot Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel,” said interim Superintendent Kevin Crowley Tuesday. “The reasons for this are threefold. The infrastructure of our schools will be set for the next 30 to 35 years, the three towns which make up the RSU are stronger together than they are apart, and finally the children of all three towns will continue to benefit from attending one of the premiere school districts in the state Maine.

“We look forward to working with PC Construction and Harriman Associates to bring these projects in on time and under budget,” Crowley said. “We thank the citizens of all three towns for the trust they have shown in us. We will not let you down.”

Crowley said the school board will likely issue the first round of approved bonds in September. All three projects entered the design phase on June 10, the day after the bond vote.

“The anticipated completion dates of the projects are September of 2016 for Kennebunk Consolidated School, December of 2016 for Mildred L. Day Elementary School and December of 2018 for Kennebunk High School,” said Crowley, who will return to his former role as principal of Mildred Day when Dr. Kathryn Hawes moves up from assistant superintendent to the school’s top job, July 1.

Voters also approved RSU 21’s $40.1 million operating budget for the 2015- 2016 school year. Adding up results from the June 9 validation vote in all three RSU 21 towns, the budget was given the OK by 67 percent of voters, 4,222-2,077.

By town, the school budget won the approval of 60.4 percent of voters in Arundel (506-330), 68.8 percent in Kennebunk (2,755-1,252), and 66 perent in Kennebunkport (961-495).

In Kennebunk, Selectman Albert Searles took to social media in the hours before polls opened to predict his own defeat, based on his opposition to the school bond and, perhaps more importantly, the annual budget.

“Having been on the ballot in a number of elections here in Kennebunk in the past 12 years or so, I must say I never felt as concerned as I do this year,” he wrote. “I cannot help but feel I am about to be punished for my honesty regarding the RSU issues.”

Searles’ fellow selectman, John Kotsonis, was unapologetic for his critique of school spending, and silent about his own loss. However, about an hour before polls closed June 9, he spoke out during the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen meeting about the general tone of the campaign.

“I’m really saddened by some of the comments and things that have gone or in social media about the RSU vote,” he said. “We’re a small community. We’re all friends. And some of the comments, I don’t get it, and I wish somebody could explain it to me. When is it permissible to insult someone because they don’t agree with you, or because they have a different opinion that you do? When did that become fair game for people to jump all over them?

“Shame on you,” Kotsonis said, addressing the community television camera. “And it’s not one side doing it worse than the other side. They’re all doing it, and it’s disgusting. You people need to look in the mirror and remember, these are your neighbors.”

Kotsonis ended up finishing fifth in a six-way race for three open seats on the board.

Winning election were former selectman Daniel Boothby (with 2,112 votes) along with newcomers to the board, Edward Karytko (1,418 votes) and Shiloh Schulte (1,414).

Rounding out the field were Searles (1,220), Kotsonis (1,212) and former selectman William Ward (923).

Kennebunk Town Clerk Merton Brown said the new selectmen will likely be sworn in at the June 23 board meeting, preparatory to taking office July 1.

The jury is still out on how the new board will react to a “citizen’s petition” on the June 9 ballot.

Asked if they favor allocating green space in Parson’s Field for a skateboard park, Kennebunk voters rejected the idea, 1,169-2,766, with just 29.7 percent in favor. However, town attorney William Dale has said the petition was worded more in the format of a nonbinding referendum than as something that would bind the board’s hands.

Selectmen chose the Parson’s Field site for a $100,000 project after reviewing 10 potential locations, including the current skateboard park on Factory Pasture Lane, deemed unsuitable for expansion due to adjacent wetlands.

Of the newly elected selectmen, Schulte led the petition drive that resulted in the, “no,” vote, and Karytko has declared himself largely undecided, while Boothby opposes using any amount of public money on a skateboard park, anywhere in town.

Meanwhile, Robert Emmons clobbered the field in the race for a seat on the Kennebunk Light & Power District board of trustees, capturing 1,806 votes. Curtis Mildner got 535, Bill Hetzel 361, and Craig Cunningham, 347.

And, in the only other competitive race, Peter Fellenz triumphed over Valerie Lander in the contest for one of Kennebunkport’s three seats on the RSU 21 Board of Directors. He captured 51.2 percent of the vote, 628-598.

In all three towns, voters approved a host of zoning amendments by wide margins.

Also passed with room to spare, 951- 376, was an updated dog ordinance in Kennebunkport.

The new rules more thoroughly define the hours when dogs must be leased on town beaches, leaving an opening from 6 to 7:30 a.m., between April 1 and Sept. 30, when they can run free on Goose Rocks Beach.

Dogs also can now run free during all daylight hours from Oct. 1 to March 31, except from noon to 2 p.m., when they must be leashed.

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