Council extends E-W moratorium, passes annual budget

By Mike Lange
Staff Writer

    DEXTER — The Dexter Town Council unanimously passed another 180-day extension of a moratorium at last week’s meeting, banning any construction of the east-west highway through the community at least through the end of the year.
    They also endorsed a new budget that could hike the tax rate from $15.40 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to as high as $18.20.

    But councilors were less enthusiastic about a public assembly ordinance proposed by the Planning Board, and declined to schedule a public hearing on the new statute. “Some parts of it are ridiculous,” said Councilor Michael Blake.
    The east-west highway moratorium ordinance drew a huge crowd to the council meeting which normally attracts 10 or 12 attendees.
    The first speaker was Dexter Regional High School student Seth Hocking, who read an essay supporting the extension of the moratorium. Teacher Carol Sherburne explained that each student was able to write on a subject of their choice and he selected the east-west highway.

NE-DexEWEssaycolor-DC-PO-29Observer photo/Mike Lange

    EAST-WEST ESSAY — Local student Seth Hocking read an essay at the beginning of last week’s Dexter Town Council meeting about his opposition to the east-west highway.

    Hocking described the rural solitude of the area — “quiet woods, chirping birds, very little traffic … chance to go fishing in a crystal-clear lake” — as being threatened by environmental and “noise pollution” with increased traffic.
    In addition, Hocking wrote, construction of the highway “would fill in a lot of wetlands and many birds and animals will lose their homes … Would you want the east-west corridor in your backyard? I wouldn’t.”
    During the 30-minute public hearing, all but one attendee spoke in favor of extending the moratorium for a variety of reasons. But one major point was an ongoing effort by a citizens’ committee to put the issue on the November general election ballot.
    “We would like the citizens of Dexter to decide on this very important issue which will impact the town for a very, very long time,” said Linda Tisdale. She asked all those in the council chambers who favored the moratorium extension to stand up and about 90 percent of the audience complied.
    Kent Dellaire said that he was concerned about the transport of petroleum products on the proposed highway from Calais to Coburn Gore, especially if the road was built close to Wassookeag Lake. “If there’s a spill in the groundwater, there goes our lake and there goes our town,” he said.
    The lone speaker opposing the moratorium, Bill Lovejoy, said that the highway “would help generate jobs. This town is going to continue to deteriorate and you’re going to see more empty storefronts.”
    But others like Barbara Beal said that the “short-term” construction jobs would never offset the loss of tourism in the area “if our lakes are destroyed.”
    Council Chairman Fred Banks acknowledged that he was skeptical about extending the moratorium for the third time “because we don’t know any more about it (the project) than we did three years ago.” But he also said that he favored putting the issue out to the voters; and if voting in favor of the extension accomplished that goal, “I don’t have a problem with that.”
    Banks joined the majority in passing the measure.
    The new $4.16 million municipal budget drew only a few questions and comments from the audience, even though it was 15.4 percent higher than last year.
    Town Manager Shelley Watson and several councilors explained that the increase was due to several factors, including the decision to take more than $300,000 from surplus last year to help balance expenditures. “We’re paying for sins of the past,” Banks said.
    The town also had to spend a considerable amount of money replacing two bridges that were washed out during spring flooding, and Dexter’s share of the SAD 46 budget increased by $100,000 this year.
    Councilor Missy Smith said that this was the third budget she helped prepare “and the hardest. But the department heads were great. They didn’t come to us asking for much at all.”
    Councilors also voted to send the public assembly ordinance back to the Planning Board for revisions, noting that some parts of the proposal may not be enforceable or practical.
    The next regularly-scheduled Dexter Town Council meeting will be held on Thursday, Aug. 14.

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