SEARSPORT, Maine — A pair of anonymous political fliers sent recently to Searsport residents has caused consternation and questions in the seaside community as it prepares for the annual town meeting and a three-way race for a contested seat on the Board of Selectmen.
The first flyer made its way to local mailboxes about three weeks ago and featured a series of leading questions for Searsport taxpayers. An example question was: “Did you know that Searsport has the highest tax rate in Waldo County? (second only to ISLESBORO!)”
The second flyer, sent last week, used graphs to illustrate why the cost of police coverage is one major reason that Searsport taxes are so high — including an allegation that the 2016 police budget is 4,000 percent bigger than the 1990 police budget.
But that’s simply not true, Searsport Town Manager James Gillway said Wednesday. In fact, the budget for the Police Department increased 169 percent in the last 25 years. However, the department’s share of the municipal budget has decreased from 5.2 percent of the 1990 budget to 4.8 percent of the 2015 budget.
As far as the charge that Searsport’s taxes are the second highest in the county, Gillway said that also is inaccurate. Taxes are based on a town’s mill rate and its valuation, and the town’s 2015 mill rate of $23.70 per thousand likely will decrease when Searsport gets the property revaluation it needs.
“It’s completely erroneous,” he said. “We’ve had a battery of phone calls and people coming into the office to say what’s this all about? Why don’t these people identify themselves? This is the type of thing that keeps a community divided. I think we’re a better community than this.”
Neither flyer overtly supports any candidate in the upcoming election for one available seat on the Board of Selectmen.
But Gillway said that besides being misleading or inaccurate, the fliers were sent without attribution. The town manager, who also serves as a Republican member of the Maine Legislature, said that on the state level, political fliers must identify who sent them.
“There’s a reason for the law,” he said. “When you’re trying to inform the public, let them know where the information is coming from. … We probably wouldn’t have received calls if they had identified themselves. This really upsets me. I believe in full disclosure. If I’m going to put something out there, running for the Legislature, I know I’ve got to disclose that stuff.”
Attribution is not mandated at the local level, but some in town feel the sender should step forward.
“The people of Searsport do not appreciate someone anonymously and presumptuously putting inaccurate, misleading, unclear and frankly bizarre things in their mailboxes,” Aaron Fethke, the chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said this week. “If you don’t have the basic courage to identify yourself, then I question the strength and honesty of your beliefs.”
Residents will vote on Tuesday, March 1, for one three-year seat on the Board of Selectmen that is up for grabs. Incumbent Meredith Ares is being challenged by Mark Bradstreet and Chris Colby for the position.
At 9 a.m. Saturday, March 5, residents will gather at Searsport District High School for the 2016 annual town meeting.
According to Gillway, one warrant item that is likely to cause a lot of discussion asks residents whether the town should accept ownership of Spruce Knoll Lane and Trout Brook Lane, two private roads that are part of a subdivision but which might not have been built to subdivision standards.
“It would have a budgetary effect for the highway department,” he said. “We would start plowing and maintaining the roads. It’s adding more work for us.”
Also, residents will be asked to make several changes to the land use, planning board, shoreland zoning, subdivision and animal control ordinances, and to accept the proposed 2016 municipal budget. The proposed budget is 1.7 percent, or $40,229, higher than the 2015 municipal budget of $2.33 million.