2021 Annual Town Meeting
To the people of New Sharon:
The year 2020 is finally behind us, although we all know what it brought will not be gone so quickly. Shortly after our annual town meeting in March, SARS2 - also known as COVID-19, became a factor in every single part of our daily lives and community. It shut down the town office, meetings, baseball leagues, roadside brush cutting and created great difficulty in the way we, as a board, were able to conduct business. The first few months were spent learning how to work during a pandemic. Despite that, we were able to accomplish some exciting things for New Sharon!
Undeterred by a few roadblocks, we continued to move forward with construction of our new town office/ fire station. COVID was not the only issue we faced. Once the walls were erected and the trusses put into place a strong windstorm in late September toppled the trusses, requiring them to be reinforced prior to installment. There were also some erosion issues presented from the heavy rains and lack of erosion controls that were not put into place initially by the contractors before bad weather hit. Lastly, there were two positive contractor cases of COVID-19 causing a complete shutdown of the project over Christmas week. As we write this letter, the move in date has been pushed to January 12 after a 4-day extension was granted due to the shutdown, as well as an additional 6-day extension due to change orders in the building project.
The Town received two grants this year to include an electric speed limit sign. This sign records speed and time even when the screen is blacked out. It makes enforcement of excessive speeding possible without requiring law enforcement to sit for numerous hours and track down individuals. A request for this sign to be posted on your road is available through the town’s website. Like several other towns, we also received an elections grant through the Department of Health and Human Services which allowed us to purchase a secure outdoor ballot box, personal protective equipment, election supplies and additional postage for mailed-in ballot requests. This grant made it possible to provide a hazard bonus to our election workers. We have a wonderful group of individuals who risked exposure by working many more hours than in years past. We are thankful for those who invested time this year to help us accomplish important business and goals for New Sharon.
Residents gathered for one outdoor special town meeting regarding the electrical moratorium. Just prior to the meeting, we were advised by legal counsel to encourage voters to vote down the ordinance article pertaining to the moratorium. After a short discussion, this in fact happened. The moratorium now expires January 23rd, and the Planning Board continues to work with residents to build regulations and parameters that will protect both the Town and landowners.
During the summer months, the Starks Road ball fields were refreshed. Through excavation, approximately 50 feet all the way around wooded areas was gained. In addition, the old water district well was removed - which had posed a dangerous public risk. The extra space will provide spectators the ability to attend games while exercising social distancing guidelines when the league is able to reopen.
The library received a much-needed overhaul to bring the building into compliance with the Fire Marshall’s Office. Voters approved additional funding in March 2020 to accomplish a great deal of maintenance and it looks better than ever now! Years ago, when the Town accepted the Ditzler property, there was an application with the State to get the building into compliance as a Town Library. After the forms were filled out and guidance was provided from the State, the Town failed to follow through with compliance. The only remaining project is to pave the ADA parking space, which we hope to accomplish this spring. We had hoped to have paving done in 2020 as the construction phase took most of the summer, and the ability to secure a paving contractor in the fall fell through.
We really wanted to meet in person for the 2021 Annual Town Meeting. To meet State CDC guidelines for in-person gatherings, a myriad of logistics made that option impossible. The current guidelines would have only allowed a 50-person gathering per room for an indoor meeting, much smaller than our normal turnout of 120 people. Ballot clerks would be needed in each room, as well as large tv monitors to connect rooms, a moderator to orchestrate it all, and a space that would allow it. The board felt this task too difficult to accomplish without disenfranchising some and putting others at risk. Thankfully, the Town switched to a bifurcated town meeting a few years ago. Because we use nomination papers and a written ballot for elected officials, we were legally qualified to vote by referendum. While an extremely tough decision, we felt it was the safest, and will still allow everyone the ability to participate in the legislative action of the town meeting process. Absentee provisions mean that voters can request a ballot via telephone and vote in the comfort and safety of their homes or attend the election in person on March 12th.
Looking over the budget, you will see very few increases apart from those the Town has no control over and represent the normal cost of doing business. The largest change is debt service for the new town office/fire station building project. Payments for the new building will be approximately $7,000 monthly for a 15-year term. With several new homes and the addition of the new Dollar General / Dunkin Donuts facility, this should offset some of the increases of the new building debt service. After the first year in the new building (and sharing expenses between the Town Office and Fire Department), we should be able to better project future expenses and cost savings.
In closing, we would like to thank each of you for your continued support and patience. If you have any questions or concerns the board can address, please reach out directly or submit an inquiry under the contact section of the Town’s website.
Lorna Nichols, Chair
Travis Pond, Selectman
Paula Nason, Selectwoman