2018-06-22 / Front Page

Voters: Maintain Arundel’s rural legacy

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

Arundel Deputy Town Clerk Emily Nedeau, who is slated to take over the top job July 1, counts hands during one particularly close vote at the annual town meeting, held Wednesday, June 13, in the gymnasium of the Mildred L. Day School. (Duke Harrington photo) Arundel Deputy Town Clerk Emily Nedeau, who is slated to take over the top job July 1, counts hands during one particularly close vote at the annual town meeting, held Wednesday, June 13, in the gymnasium of the Mildred L. Day School. (Duke Harrington photo) ARUNDEL — Although surrounded on all sides by growing communities, not to mention steadily swelling of its own account, Arundel is a town that desperately wants to retain its rural heritage for as long as possible. And that means beating back any perception of government overreach.

That was the clear pronouncement of voters at Arundel’s annual town meeting, held Wednesday, June 13, in the gymnasium at Mildred L. Day School.

In addition to adopting a $3.4 million gross operating budget for the coming fiscal year, the 76 meeting attendees voted down a proposal to regulate small, non-commercial horse farms and appeared ready to do the same with rules for animal husbandry had town officials not asked to take that one off the table.

“To have someone with two horses, whether they are breeding them or have them as pets, to have to go through this (permitting process), it’s not right, it’s not fair and it’s not this town,” said Diane Robbins, generating a hearty round of applause from the audience.

Donna Der Kinderen echoed that sentiment, rising next to recall, “Approximately 30 years ago, when I was much younger, I stood up at a town meeting and said, if we weren’t careful, it would take roughly 30 years to lose this town.

“This is how it goes,” she said. “We are now looking at short-term, quick solutions. Somebody doesn’t like a horse next to them, we have to do something about horses. Somebody’s not wild about pigs, we have to control pigs. Somebody’s not wild about something else, we have to control that. And what that ends up doing is eroding over time the rural nature of this town.

“If that’s what the townspeople want, fine,” Der Kinderen said. “But I don’t think it is. And I haven’t spoken to anybody who thinks it is. We kind of like what we have. And, yes, there will be changes. But the vision of the people of this town is to maintain the rural character and the rural aspects of this town — not by trampling on people’s rights, and not by inconveniencing their neighbors, but by simply allowing things to be in a reasonable way.”

“Both the Animal Husbandry Ordinance and the Equestrian Stables Ordinance undermine all of that rural atmosphere,” De Kinderen said. “It’s an atmospheric change. We have to be very, very careful. We need to look long-term, look 20 years down the road, to see what these things will to this town.” That, too, drew applause.

The Animal Husbandry Ordinance was meant to establish standards for a wide swath of livestock, creating, among other rules, a table of “stocking points,” used to determine the maximum number of different animal types a landowner could keep per acre in different zoning districts. Based on later comments, residents would have likely rejected that concept, or at least made it a close vote.

Before debate could begin, planning board chairman Chip Bassett asked to have the item taken off the table. In the time since selectmen approved the town meeting warrant, he said, planners had learned that rules such as the ones proposed are supposed to be sent to the state Department of Agriculture 90 days before any vote. If residents went ahead and adopted the ordinance sans review in Augusta, the state would declare it invalid, Bassett said.

Still, a number of residents wanted to assure state review would not set the ordinance in stone — that they’d still be able to review and amend it whenever it came back up for a public vote. Others wondered if the new ordinance would bear any resemblance to the one printed in their annual town report.

“We’re not starting over, we’re just taking two steps back,” Bassett assured the audience.

Planning board vice chairman Richard Ganong said there would be a series of public hearings on the ordinance, with possible modification made, before it is sent to the state

“If you want to complain about what the planning board is doing after the planning board has done its best to get input from the public and you have not signed up to get emails about planning board agendas, that is a problem,” Ganong said.

Linda Zuke claimed to have have signed up for the updates without hint of news in her inbox. Robbins, meanwhile, drew another round of applause by suggesting people don’t turn out to planning board meetings for a reason.

“The last meeting I went to, I have to say, I don’t think I was ever treated so rudely,” she said. “If you want the citizens of this town to participate in this process, then you need to treat us with more respect. Maybe one reason people don’t go to your meetings and wait to come here is because of the way they are treated.”

As debate circled back to the actual ordinance, there was a minor parliamentary kerfuffle over how to deal with the article. After a few false start on motions to table the item, voters took the advice of meeting moderator Durward Parkinson and agreed to simply “pass it over.”

But even so, residents were not done complaining about the proposal, which, based on the table of stocking points, would have limited residents to one cow per acre, or one per two two acres without an approved soil nutrient management plan.

“Where was the need for this? Where did it come from? We’re already regulated by the state, by the feds,” said dairy farmer Rick Stone. “If you people have a problem with farmers, we’ve been here for over 100 years. You came in and moved around us, we didn’t move around you.”

On the other end of the longevity scale in Arundel is Kate’s Homemade Butter.

“We don’t agree with this (ordinance),” said Alison Leary, on behalf of the company. “We moved here under the advertisement this town is agriculture friendly. We thought you guys really wanted us here. On behalf of all the farms, we would like to help work on fixing this.”

After voters agreed to pass over the animal husbandry ordinance, there was a similar attempt to pass over the ordinance regulating small horse farms. As a follow up to the ordinance passed at the 2017 annual town meeting to regulate commercial equestrian centers, the new rule would have required a full site plan review before the planning board for keeping a single horse, entirely for private use, within most town zoning districts.

“This is looking to regulate a problem that doesn’t exist,” said resident Milda Castner.

Others complained about additional mandates within the required site plans.

“I don’t think this extreme regulation of horses and horse farms should extend to restricting people in the design of their driveways and this and that,” Sol Fedder said.

An attempt to also pass over the horse regulation failed in a 33-31 vote — a tally Parkinson deemed “as close as any we’ve seen here in a long time,” requiring a count of hands by town clerks. But with the motion to pass over defeated, residents then resoundingly rejected the ordinance itself, with more than two-thirds opposed.

Also defeated was an amendment to the town’s Land Use Ordinance which would have added provisions to the planning board’s site plan review process, requiring proof of technical and financial capacity to undertake and complete a proposed building project in town.

“I don’t think there’s anybody on that board that’s qualified to make that decision. This is wrong. This is totally wrong,” said Roger Taschereau, the town’s director of public works.

“We’re not saying we know, we’re just saying that if you want to do something like this (requiring a site plan review) you’ve got to have an engineer,” Ganong said. “And we just want to make sure that if something is not completed, the town doesn’t have to step in and finish the job.”

Several residents doubted the town would be on the hook to complete any development project, while others complained there was no mention of an engineer.

“The planning board can’t say that’s what this means,” Robbins said. “What it says is that if an applicant comes in and says they want to do something all by themselves, and they can convince the planning board that they can, this doesn’t stop them. That’s a concern in this day of litigation.”

Voters did approve three other land use amendments, giving the nod to new rules on landscaping and buffering for commercial and multi-family residential developments, revised standards for constructing private roads and a reduction in the public notice period for site plan review public hearings from 10 to seven days.

As the meeting transitioned at the one-hour mark from ordinance questions to the annual budget, voters began to trickle out. By the time the full budget was adopted 45 minutes later, about 35 people remained, including selectmen.

One major change this year was the addition of $40,000 in order to offer a family plan to health insurance coverage for town employees, with the town covering 80 percent of the premium. The plan would not go into effect until January, however, meaning the new outlay would at least double next year.

“I don’t fault anyone wanting health care coverage, but this is a small town,” Robbins said. “And if you take look at what happens with the school (health) insurance and how much that goes up each year, and how much that impacts their budget, this is just the beginning. If you do this, every year it’s going to go up, 7 percent, 9 percent, 13 percent. It’s not sustainable for us as a town.”

Town Clerk Simone Boissonneault noted that, while the change won’t affect her, as she begins to transition into retirement starting July 1, providing only individual coverage has cost the town several employees in recent years, including ones who have left for better benefits in other towns, and some who declined job offers after learning the limits of what Arundel offers.

“We are competing against all of the towns around us for some of these employees and it’s getting harder and harder because we don’t pay what a Portland or a South Portland, or DOT (department of transportation), or even somebody right down the road might pay,” she said.

As with most of the budget articles, the new insurance line passed with only a smattering of hands raised in opposition.

According to Town Manager Keith Trefethen, when accounting for anticipated revenues, including a $300,000 transfer from the town’s undesignated fund balance, the new annual budget approved by voters will add between 13 and 14 cents to the mil rate.

“If you put that together with what happened with the school appropriation, we’re looking at 98 cents to $1 added to the tax rate next year, per $1,000 of valuation” he said.

The final rate will be set sometime in August, once the state calculation of local property values — estimated to be up as much as $7 million, overall, Trefethen said — and other factors are known.

If the estimate holds, it would mean that the median single-family home in Arundel, assessed at $200,000, could expect a tax hike of $200, including $28 in new taxes to cover municipal services.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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