Dog park/basketball vote uncertain
Bethel selectmen Monday appointed a committee to plan recreational facilities at Davis Park, but a petition request for residents to vote next month on whether a dog park or a basketball court should go on a parcel there is still up in the air.
Selectmen charged the committee to “prepare a plan for recreational facilities at Davis Park, which may include, but not be limited to, basketball courts, tennis courts, and a dog park, with recommendations for specific locations of each. The report will also detail necessary ancillary facilities, costs and permits necessary for implementation. The report to the selectmen will be due no later than June 30.”
The committee was the board’s solution to what they saw as an either/or choice between a dog park, which has been approved by the Planning Board but was slated for a referendum vote June 11, and a basketball court that many supporters of youth recreation prefer.
Todd Wheeler, who favors a basketball court, last month presented a petition for residents to vote at the June 12 town meeting on both proposals, but the board favored instead a long-range plan for the land. They also approved a town meeting warrant article that would authorize selectmen to accept donations to be used toward implementing recommendations of the committee, at the board's discretion.
However, on Monday Attorney Jarrod Crockett told selectmen that although he thought the committee was a good idea, legally the board needed to place an article reflecting the petition request on the town meeting warrant.
“The bottom line is you don’t really have an option,” he said.
Wheeler also told the board he would still like to see the basketball court go to voters in June.
After some discussion on the technicalities, selectmen agreed to check with the town attorney on how to proceed. They agreed, however, that the committee itself may proceed independent of the petition issue.
Appointed to the committee were Debra Borchardt, Landon Fake, Edie Okenquist, Todd Wheeler, Jack Cross, Mike Steven and Jessie Seymour Perkins. Others who applied were Jim Bennett, Judith Diamond, Doug Farrar, Bud Kulik, and Amy Scott. Selectboard Chair Stan Howe said the meetings were public and encouraged the other applicants to attend.
In another petition issue, selectmen approved placing a petition-requested article on the town meeting warrant for another vote on a “tar sands” resolution, which had been approved by voters at a special town meeting in January. Representatives of the oil industry were prevented from speaking at that gathering when the question was called only a few minutes into the meeting.
Town Clerk Christen Mason also reported to the board that the ballot for the June 11 municipal election will be: for selectman, Don Bennett and Stan Howe (vote for two); for assessor, Stan Howe and David Luxton (vote for two); for SAD 44 director, Elaine Cross and Carol Everett (vote for two).
Lynn Arizzi is not seeking her director’s seat again. Absentee ballots will be available May 13 to June 6 (5 p.m.).
School “Report Card”
In other business, selectmen briefly discussed the recent grade of “F” received by Telstar High School on the “Report Card” on public schools released last week by the state (see related story, Page 1).
Howe said he had heard from some residents about it. “A considerable amount of taxpayer money goes to the school and we collect the taxes,” he said.
Howe was, however, critical of the grading method used by the state, calling it a “meat ax approach” that was simplistic.
Selectmen Peter Southam cited an apparent correlation between test scores and the socioeconomic status of Maine school districts. Based on the number of SAD 44 students who qualify for free/reduced school lunch, the district falls into a lower socioeconomic category.
“I’m not sure how anyone in the state is going to fix that problem, other than hiring a lot of rich people to move to Bethel and pay a lot more taxes,” said Southam.
He said he thought the grading system chosen by the state “is going to do more harm than good.”
Southam said that someone choosing a place to live based in part on the quality of the school system “is going to look at Bethel and say ‘I’m not moving there.’”
Howe said the situation is complicated, but selectmen should be aware of the issues. He suggested they ask to meet with SAD 44 Supt. Dave Murphy.