Budget Presentations Begin Without a Town Manager

At Least 22 Leaks at Conners Emerson School on Thursday

BAR HARBOR—Bar Harbor enters its tax season with some problems.

The first is that the town continues into its budget season without a town manager. Town Manager Kevin Sutherland had submitted his resignation for personal reasons on January 25. That letter was made public on Thursday.

When Council Chair Valerie Peacock announced the resignation at a joint budget session of the Town Council and Warrant Committee, Thursday, there was a pronounced hush in the room before she continued on with the budget presentations.

“We have a lot of experience in this room,” Peacock said as budget presentations to the Town Council and Warrant Committee continued after its Tuesday start.

There is experience and there are also needs.

Some of those needs are at the Conners Emerson School where water infiltration is worsening.

There were 22 leaks in the Conners Emerson School during the rain storm, Thursday. Buckets caught water in the gym. Leaks appeared in the cafeteria, the boiler room, the reading room, and there were two more in the library, which is closed for repairs.

In one bathroom stall, two buckets were in front of a toilet catching drips underneath a ceiling where you can see the drywall tape lines.

A game against Sumner was cancelled because of several new leaks in the gym. Other practices were cancelled as well.

There is a plan for a rebuild for the school, but it costs a lot of money. However, just renovating the existing buildings is expensive.

Original financial analysis. The estimated cost has decreased by $3 million since the presentation

And because of the new daily cruise ship cap, which is currently being argued against in court, there is worry about what money will come in to support the town via the cruise ship fees.

All of this happens on top of the normal tax season.


The Bar Harbor Town Council and Warrant Committee had its first joint workshop Tuesday night. Sutherland was not at the meeting. Town Clerk Liz Graves and Finance Director Sarah Gilbert filled in for Sutherland with an overview, and Communications Coordinator Maya Caines did some last minute tech duties coordinating people on Zoom and in the room. Councilor Jeff Dobbs had an excused absence for both nights this week.

There were no motions or specific changes to the budget or decisions during the Tuesday meeting and its budget overview. Conners Emerson School Principal Heather Webster also presented the school’s budget.

The budget first goes to the Town Council and Warrant Committee. Recommendations are made. The final budget is approved by voters in June. The budget in discussion is FY2024, which runs from the beginning of July 2023 through to June 30, 2024.

Peacock said Tuesday that she has been looking forward to the budget season and the involvement of the town’s citizens. She said she feels the weight and responsibility of the work and that each number in the budget binder represents something important for Bar Harbor and the process of winnowing and decision making those numbers is fundamental to democracy in Bar Harbor.

“I really do love this,” she said. “I think it’s cool.”

Gilbert explained that one line in the budget represents a maintenance of effort (MOE), which shows the cost for the level of services from the previous year for this upcoming fiscal year. Factors such as cost of living increases are figured into that number. Service enhancements are items created by department managers and staff or the Jesup Memorial Library and YMCA this year. Of those requests, some had been recommended by the town manager and some have not.


Also on Tuesday, Conners Emerson School Principal Heather Webster presented the school budget.

“We put together a budget that reflects our commitment to both the students and the community,” Webster said.

The actual budget is up 5.6%. It uses all but $100,000 of the expected carryover from this year.

Councilor Gary Friedman asked if it’s smarter to defer a repair if there’s an expected rebuild. Webster said that they are trying to maintain and not replace. She said she’s very conscious of not throwing money at something that might not be there in three or four years.

The enrollment projections for the school are pretty flat, Superintendent of Schools Michael Zboray said. For the last few years attendance has been in the area of 330 to 340 students. The total number of students in each grade ranges from 32 to 47.

Webster explained that the fund balance is a bit higher than usual because the school hadn’t been able to hire a specific special education technician and a few other positions weren’t staffed in the beginning of the school year. They had a budget for a full-time interpreter, but it’s only a 60% position. Also, some teachers retired at the top of the pay scale. Newer teachers are usually at a lower range for salaries. A few employees also opted out of their benefits. The fund balance was approximately $795,000.

They would like to hire a regular ed tech position as well as a MTSS behavioral interventionist. This is a response to intervention or instruction which occurs when a student either needs more challenges or is falling behind but doesn’t meet the requirements for special education. The position helps that student catch up. They have interventionists for reading and math but not for behavior. Those students that would benefit from an interventionist might include those exhibiting inappropriate language, aggression toward adults or other students, eloping (trying to exit the building or not being where they are supposed to be) and work or task refusals on a daily basis. The position would also help create partnerships for the parents of those students. Plans for these students are difficult to implement, Webster said. The position would help with that. She feels that there is an increase in these behaviors in the last few years. A majority of those behaviors occur between kindergarten and third grade.

The regular ed tech would be used to support both the math interventionist with class support and small group pull out for half of the school day. And then also working with the behavioral interventionist on providing students with coaching strategies when frustrated, supervised sensory breaks, and data collection for behavioral plans. The school has a special education population of 21%. This position would serve the rest of the students.

Capital improvement requests included a hybrid van and charging stations. Currently students are carpooling with MDES or being transported to Willowind and similar programs using staff private vehicles. MDES, Tremont and the high school all have two minivans. Conners-Emerson does not have any.

This year’s biggest capital expense was $153,000 for the boiler. A portion of that might be covered by insurance. The boiler’s sister is the same age and with the same lifespan. When the initial broken boiler was replaced, many parts were intentionally taken off and they hope to be able to use some of those parts if the other boiler breaks.

A detailed accounting of the school’s proposed budget is in the resources below the main article.


The school library is currently closed. There was no mold, but there is a .5 to 1 inch space between the foundation and foot of the wall. A lot of drywall had gotten wet and they are putting up plywood as a temporary solution. They will check it again in the spring. That repair is $10,000.

Roof repairs, Webster said, are always being done. The five-year roof report shows the most dire areas. The fifth-sixth grade hallway had a small river that came through on one of the seams in the exterior wall this fall. That wall is patched but not yet repaired.

The requested phone system would have a 15-year life expectancy and could be transferred to a new school. There is a possibility that parking funds could be used for the paving of the school’s lot rather than having that money come from the school’s budget. Gilbert said she’d like to look into that.


The MDI YMCA and Jesup Memorial Library both submitted service enhancement requests. The Jesup requested $119,320. The YMCA requested $50,000.

Director of the Jesup Memorial Library Matt Delaney said that in 2018, the town began contributing more to the library. As the library heads into an expanded facility, it looks toward changing the composition of its funding so that 50% of the funding comes from the town.

The goal, he said, is to offer competitive and stable benefits to the staff. They have used the town as a benchmark and are trying to match what the town is offering its employees.

The library’s treasurer, Thomas Crikelair said that the Jesup being private is “an accident of history” funded by wealthy visitors at the turn of the 19th century. Through most of the 20th century, the library covered its costs without asking for much from the town, he said, and during that time the library’s role was just to give out books. It has expanded since then. They are resisting going into their own reserves to make up the needs.

YMCA board member Dean Read said that the YMCA has consistently had to dip into its reserves to make sure that it continues to function, and that it doesn’t offer the health insurance that everyone else has or wants to have. The pool is a significant cost.

“The community couldn’t support the Y if it charged what it cost to run it,” he said.

The Y isn’t asking for money for capital improvement. It needs money for operations, he said, echoing the CEO and Executive Director Ann Tikkanen.


The new highway building has a phantom roof leak that they can’t find the source of. The department spends a lot of time tweaking the town’s fountains and hoping that they continue to operate. Barker Park needs some security enhancements because of issues with things overnight.

Public Works Director Bethany Leavitt said that she and her staff constantly look for opportunities to reduce cost.

The capital improvement pieces for her department is mostly funded with parking and cruise ship at the moment, she said.

Glen Mary Pool could be a place to save costs, she hesitantly said. Upgrades to the ball fields’ irrigation could be as well though the irrigation system is donated.

She said that she hoped for future discussions about ways her department could become more of a revenue generator than spender. That might come from increasing permit fees for commercial users, but she doesn’t think it will get them far. They could also potentially charge for solid waste.

A detailed breakdown of the aspects of the budget under Leavitt’s purview are in the expenses and revenues binders on the town’s budget page, which is linked below.


To watch the meeting, click here.

To learn more about the capital improvement projects (potential and ongoing), click here.

To read about potential service enhancements, click here.

To peruse all the town’s currently uploaded budget documents, click here.

For Heather Webster’s presentation, click here.

To learn more about the school’s proposed budget, click here.

Bar Harbor Story is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s