Bethel Town Meeting voters approve all but one articles
In less than two hours last Wednesday night, Bethel town-meeting voters in the Crescent Park School gym approved a $2.1 million municipal budget.
The $2,110,812 budget is $23,526 less than last year’s budget of $2,134,338. Coupled with the Oxford County assessment of $336,288 and SAD 44 assessment of $2,574,904, the total appropriation, less revenues, is $5,022,004.
Voters approved taking $135,000 from the undesignated fund balance to keep the tax rate flat, reducing the net amount to raise through taxation to $4,887,004.
Town Manager James Doar said the undesignated fund balance was $950,833 as of June 30, 2011.
Voters passed all but Article 4. It sought to amend the Administration Ordinance by reducing membership of the Planning and Recreation boards from seven to five.
An effort was made to defeat Article 5, which sought to amend the Entertainment Ordinance to eliminate noise, but it failed 35-34.
A recount was immediately requested, but Moderator Harry “Dutch” Dresser wouldn’t allow it.
“We have had a legitimate count,” he said.
Dresser said they could ask selectmen to consider a recount request at the end of the meeting, but no one asked when the time came.
The only other extensive discussion came on Article 12, which asked voters to raise and appropriate $10,000 to hire “an accomplished consultant specializing in sign ordinance issues” to facilitate and direct the Committee for Sign Ordinance Reform in its revision of the Sign Ordinance.
Selectmen have yet to appoint anyone to that committee, Chairman Stanley Howe said.
Former Planning Board Chairman Allen Cressy started discussion, championing the need to hire a professional.
“Three years ago, we formed a committee to amend the sign ordinance,” he said. “They spent many months on it and got nowhere.”
The committee then recommended hiring a professional facilitator, but that didn’t happen, Cressy said.
“This is not rocket science,” he said. “But the sense of urgency is here and we cannot afford to spend a year on this.”
Businessman and former Planning Board member Ron Savage disagreed, saying there’s enough talent in Bethel to make the needed changes and save taxpayers $10,000.
Another voter said that of the business owners he spoke with about the Sign Ordinance, which is considered overly restrictive, he said “99 percent of them feel that Bethel has never been business friendly.”
He said businesses should be allowed more creativity, that selectmen should encourage more creativity, and that bigger signs indicating the presence of businesses are needed.
“Stop treating business as adversarial,” he said.
Selectman Don Bennett said reform is needed but not a complete overhaul.
“We aren’t going to have to reinvent the wheel here,” he said.
Bennett said he drove down to the Sunday River Road intersection with Route 2 where a directional kiosk is located beside the westbound lane. On the kiosk are several brown placards for businesses.
He said when he was approaching that intersection from Bethel, all he was aware of was oncoming traffic and traffic trying to enter Route 2 off Sunday River Road. There were too many distractions to even see the directional kiosk.
“That sign is in the wrong place and it damn well ain’t big enough,” Bennett said.
“This is not just about having a retirement community here,” Savage said.