The topic of the county tax increase produced significant consternation for Calais city councillors, many of whom voiced their concerns at a November 9 city council meeting. The council also discussed dangerous and tax-acquired properties and met with Baileyville councillors to confirm the bylaws for the joint municipal fiber utility.
City Councillor Marcia Rogers opened the discussion regarding the county tax, which is slated to increase for Calais by $21,819 this year. Last year, Calais paid $281,522 of the county's $5.77 million budget, which is increasing this year by 7.8%. The increase is due in part to increased costs for fuel, health insurance and employee raises but also due to the committee delegates voting to add an officer to the sheriff's department.
"Our community, the small communities, the outlying communities, if we don't speak up and say something, we are going to be taxed right out of business," Rogers said.
"It is disturbing, what comes out of county seats, when you hear that we're going down a dark road if we don't raise our taxes. What kind of mentality is going on over there, really?" Councillor Artie Mingo said, referring to a comment made by Senator Joyce Maker of Calais regarding the need to increase law enforcement presence for residents across the county. "We need to, as a community, step up and stop this foolishness," Rogers said. "It's been almost a 30% increase in three years."
"More towns have got to start saying something," Mayor Billy Howard said. According to Howard, Calais was the only municipality in opposition to the budget increase. "These increases are happening every year."
The council briefly debated the pros and cons of not paying the tax. "We've got to stop subsidizing the outlying towns," Howard said. "Something's got to give at some point."
No decision was reached beyond some councillors agreeing that they would speak with their representative counterparts in the smaller communities to see if there is interest in challenging the tax increase moving forward.
Revolving loan fund suspended
Following the recommendation of the Economic Development Committee, the council motioned to suspend the city's revolving loan fund, which provided loans to individuals seeking to start or expand their businesses. Councillor Marcia Rogers conveyed the sentiments of Joe Moses, president of the Down East Credit Union, who advised the committee and said that if the individuals receiving the loans were unable to secure them elsewhere then they would be too risky for the city to loan to anyway. The approximately $500,000 in the fund will be allocated for economic development, and the existing accounts will continue to be collected upon.
Dangerous and tax-acquired properties
Several dangerous buildings were reviewed by the council, with City Code Enforcement Officer Tim Krug providing the details of the condition of the buildings and any interactions with the owners. The property at 130 Union Street is "suffering from a lack of maintenance," and the owner is planning on hiring local contractors to tear down the building. The owner of the building at 5 Spring Street, who was told to either fix the building or tear it down, has hired a contractor to fix the windows and the hole in the roof and another contractor to fix the foundation. "He can't just cover up the mess," contested Councillor Anne Nixon, who questioned the stability of the structure. It was agreed that the owner would be requested to come to the next meeting.
The properties at 1366 and 1368 River Road will be torn down and groundwork completed. The owner of the building at 39 King Street has contacted the city and advised that he is seeking to tear down the structure but can't until next spring. Councillor Artie Mingo said it would be necessary to board it up and make it safe for the public until then. The owner will be requested to attend the next city council meeting.
Numerous tax-acquired properties were discussed at the meeting. The property at 43 North Street cannot be acted upon until the loan foreclosure is negotiated. Both the properties at 23 Chapel Street and 171 South Street still have residents living in them, and the councillors agreed that the city would need to pursue eviction before placing the properties out to bid. The property at 33 Lafayette Street is now owned by a bank that City Clerk Theresa Porter is unable to get on the phone. Proceedings on it, along with those on the property at 469 South Street and the property on North Street adjacent to the Milltown bridge, which has a tax issue that needs to be resolved, have been postponed. Lots at 64 Lafayette, 146 Union, 8 Cherry Lane, 287 North Street and lots on Midland Avenue and Union Street were put out to bid. A property at 22 Boardman Street was sold to the second highest bidder after the first bidder backed out.
Fiber utility bylaws discussed
Prior to the city council meeting, the Calais councillors met with councillors of Baileyville regarding the approval of the bylaws for the recently formed municipal fiber utility. City Manager Jim Porter introduced the proposed bylaws as "boilerplate," meaning they were standard for bylaws serving this purpose.
The bylaws detail that the "members" of the utility specifically refer to the municipalities involved and allow for additional members to join with the approval of Calais and Baileyville. "They would have to do the same thing we did," Baileyville Town Manager Rick Bronson said of the situation of another municipality wishing to join. "Vote for broadband first and then come to us." It was briefly discussed what kind of fees would be applied to municipalities wishing to join the joint utility, but no consensus was reached. It was agreed that the board will determine how any profits will be allocated, with the suggestion made by Porter and seconded by Bronson that it be based on land area, which affects infrastructure costs.
Regarding the establishment of the board of directors, the bylaws allow for up to 19 directors to serve. Those present at the meeting agreed that a figure of five directors is suitable at present. Two directors will be appointed from Calais and two from Baileyville, and a fifth director will be "at large" from Washington County. It was agreed that the at‑large director would probably be Danny Sullivan, based on the assistance he has provided in establishing the utility.
Councillor Mike Sherrard expressed his desire to prevent a self‑perpetuating board from being established; the bylaws of the utility outline that directors can only be appointed by the municipal councils of each town and not by the board itself. Directors will serve three-year terms, and there is no limit on the number of terms that may be served.