Casco Residents Debate Referendum Questions
October 29, 2008 -
CASCO -- It was a raucous night in Casco Tuesday as residents debated the merits of four referendum questions slated for the Nov. 4 ballot, with the more emphatic and blunt comments drawing applauses and shouts from the crowd.
The most contentious were proposals to allow recall of selectmen, redo the 2007 property revaluation and tear down the Casco Community Center.
All three proposals were placed on the November ballot by citizens’ petitions. Tuesday’s public hearing included participation by residents, town officials, the town’s attorney and an official from the property tax division of Maine Revenue Services.
Residents also discussed a referendum question placed on the ballot by the selectmen to allow School Administrative District 61 to close the Casco Memorial School.
Robert Levesque, who organized the Casco Tax Fairness Association to protest the 2007 revaluation, filed petitions to enact an ordinance for recall of selectmen and to mandate a new revaluation. Levesque argued that selectmen should not have placed their recommendation against the ordinance on the ballot.
“This statement by the selectmen essentially poisons the ballot,” Levesque said.
Barbara York, chairwoman of the board of selectmen, said she thinks having a recall ordinance is a good idea but would prefer a policy that requires a reason for removal from office. The ordinance drafted by Levesque and his lawyer does not require a reason for recall and allows recall of selectmen only, not other elected officials. The town currently has no recall ordinance.
Casco resident John Carrigan said he didn’t think a reason should be required for recall.
“Give us a little respect,” Carrigan said.
One of the town’s attorneys, William Dale, pointed out that the ordinance may not apply to incumbent selectmen.
Levesque also spoke in support of a new property revaluation. He said a new revaluation would replace a hit or miss revaluation completed in 2007 and no tax increase would be required to fund it, as up to $290,000 would come out of the undesignated fund balance, or the rainy day fund.
“They chose to cut corners,” Levesque said, adding that appraisers never visited properties.
Recent state sales ratio studies, Casco Town Manager Morton said, show the town’s revaluation to be quite accurate.
Carrigan brought up the specifics on his two small properties on Sebago Lake, which jumped in value from more than $167,000 to more than $500,000 in 2007. Carrigan, as well as around 225 other property owners, filed an abatement request claiming discrimination against him as a waterfront property owner.
Casco tax assessor John O’Donnell, whose company John E. O’Donnell and Associates Inc., completed the revaluation, rejected all but about a dozen of those requests. Residents have appealed to the Cumberland County Commissioners.
Adam Graham, a former resident of the town, said he was forced out of town six years ago by high property taxes. Graham, who had no water access, said he was paying $2,400 while nearby waterfront property owners were paying $1,800 in taxes. O’Donnell has said that many non-waterfront property owners were paying more than their fair share of the taxes before the revaluation.
Wayne Ward initiated the fourth referendum question, which asks residents to authorize spending no more than $122,350 to remove the old town office and gym in Casco village.
Though there is currently no item on the ballot to renovate the community center, much of the discussion centered around a previous proposal to use the building for recreation programs. During June’s town meeting, residents approved spending $750,000 to renovate the center, but funding was withheld at an August special town meeting.
A group formed in opposition to the current referendum question called the Friends of the Casco Community Center. Speaking for the group, Kevin Hancock said it was a simple choice to spend a little bit of money to tear down the building or spend a little bit more to renovate it.
While some residents talked about their memories of the building as the former high school, others talked about the large amount of work needed to make it safe for the public.
Recreation director Beth Latsey said she was barely able to provide youth sports programs with limited space at Crooked River Elementary School, and that she didn’t have space for adult and senior programs.
“What scares me most is that we’re losing our sense of community,” said Casco resident Tom Mulkern. “The need is great.”
By Julia Davis
Reporter - Lakes Region Weekly
October 24, 2008
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