“It’s Like a Dagger Hanging Over Our Heads.”

Council Begins Its Own Budget Discussions

BAR HARBOR—After two weeks of presentations in joint workshops with the Warrant Committee, the Town Council began its budget discussions during its meeting at the town’s municipal building, Tuesday night.

The budget for FY 2024 (July 2023-June 2024) is still in the proposal stage. The final budget will be presented to town voters after both Town Council and Warrant Committee recommendations. Voting on the budget takes place at the town meeting in late spring.

The proposal has the budget near $38 million. The tax rate increase if passed would be 15.2 percent. Just over $20 million would be funded by property taxes. If the increase is approved as is, it would translate to the median home owner having an annual increase of $575 each year. The median home value currently is just over $400,000.

The council began the discussion with some free ranging thoughts about the budget as a whole before narrowing it to focus on revenue.


The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) provided funds that are meant to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of those funds in the $1.9 trillion package were direct federal aid.  Bar Harbor was a recipient of some of these funds.

ARPA funding must be committed by December 2024. Originally, it could only be used for public health response issues and certain other uses, but those opportunities were expanded for spending, to include things such as Jesup Memorial Library support and a police cruiser purchase.

There was discussion about the Jesup Memorial Library’s request for funding for benefits of its employees similar to the benefits of town staff and possibly using ARPA funds for that, and the precedent it creates as paying for the healthcare package of its employees, which could potentially open the door for other nonprofit organizations coming to the council for employee pay.  Some councilors believed that the library and the MDI YMCA perform services that are quasi-municipal and therefore different in the budget.

The Y is the towns parks and recreation department, Vice Chair Matthew Hochman said. The Jesup takes the place of a municipal library.

Chair Valerie Peacock suggested the town use the ARPA funds for the Jesup. Like any other use of those funds, it would not be a continuing way to pay for budget items. The police department also spoke of using ARPA funds to contract out a mental health liaison, which is a slightly different plan than the original budget presentation.

Councilor Joe Minutolo said there is also ferry terminal and school repair at Conners Emerson that should be considered as recipients of ARPA funding.

Police Chief Jim Willis removed the $50,000 request to be funded from fund balance. He suggested starting out the mental health liaison using ARPA money for the end of this year and FY 2024 as a contracted position.


Though the potential school bond for a rebuild of the aging and breaking Conners Emerson School is not part of the budget, it does impact tax payers, Councilor Gary Friedmann said, stressing that the council needed to know if the school committee is looking at any scale backs of the $64 million proposal.

“It’s like a dagger hanging over our heads,” Friedmann said. “We know it’s coming.” He said he’s very reticent to approve any operations budget increases this year that they don’t see as absolutely essential.

“This is one of the toughest budgets,” Hochman said.

The island-wide MDI High School has scaled back its high school renovation plan from its initial cost of $26.5 million. The new cost has not yet been determined. The town is also involved with a major infrastructure bond previously approved by voters.

It is currently impossible to know if the Conners Emerson bond will be passed. It will be voted on in June. The debt service would possibly begin in FY2025.

At the Conners Emerson School Committee meeting Monday, Chair Alexandra Simis said that they were thinking of scaling back. The only members of the public at that meeting were the Bar Harbor Story and one teacher, who attended part of the meeting.


Councilor Goldthwait said that they could spend months going through the budget with a fine-toothed comb and potentially still not find enough to cut.

Friedmann said he’d like to find a million dollars to cut out to help alleviate the tax payer’s burden. Goldthwait said they’d need to find more than that.

Service enhancements come out to roughly a million dollars. Service enhancements are usually new positions or services that are meant to improve the service the town gives to its residents and visitors. These additions are about the regular maintenance of effort (MOE) budget expenses that do not expand services, but continue them. The proposed MOE budget has increased the total by about 10.5% from FY2023.

There are a lot of program needs for staff, Peacock said. “It’s a lot of money, but we need a school. It’s a lot of money, but we need to run a town.”

Service enhancements discussed (some included within the budget proposal and some not) included one or two out of the initially requested four new fire department staff for Somesville, dry hydrant repair and advanced EMS training. The planning department has asked for a housing and community planner and a staff planner. Chief Jim Willis asked for that previously mentioned mental health liaison to share with Mount Desert (60-40 split in cost). The town manager’s office requested a new data architect.

Revenue possibilities discussed including increasing paid parking; potentially by $2; increasing parking fees per tickets; using the remaining ARPA funds on improvements that could generate more revenue; and implementing a 10% increase of all planning and code enforcement fees. Residential mooring fees were briefly discussed, but didn’t seem to generate support. Also discussed was adding an additional $65 to annual short-term rental fees to enforce the program.

There was also a cruise ship update about the number of potential cruise ship passengers (less ten percent) for the year being 179,998, which changes the revenue figure to $ 966,592.  It’s over a $100,000 decrease.

No decisions or official recommendations on the budget were made. Discussions are still ongoing.


Service Enhancements

Cooperating Agency Requests

Town Budget Documents

Bar Harbor Story

Mental Health Crises And Bar Harbor Police

BAR HARBOR—The Bar Harbor Police Department hopes to add a mental health liaison to its lineup of staff, Police Chief Jim Willis told the Town Council and Warrant Committee during budget sessions, Tuesday night. Willis presented the department’s budget with Captain David Kerns, Special Services Lieutenant Chris Wharff, (harbormaster, cruise ship, parking…

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6 days ago · 1 comment · Carrie Jones

Police Department Presentation – View presentation video (1:14:02)

Cruise Ship Presentation – View presentation video (1:46:01)

Chamber of Commerce Presentation – View presentation video (1:50:32) 

Parking Presentation – View presentation video (1:50:32) 

·       Revenues

·       Expenses

·       Service Enhancements

·       Cruise Ship Fund

·       Parking Fund

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Planning Department Asks For Additional Staff To Help Create Affordable Housing

BAR HARBOR—A joint Town Council and Warrant Committee heard budget presentation on Thursday evening and the beginning of the meeting was delayed for a bit as councilors and committee members declared conflicts of interests. Those conflicts prevented them from discussing the aspects of the budget that they had a conflict with…

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4 days ago · 1 like · 1 comment · Carrie Jones

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Fire Chief Presents Budget

BAR HARBOR—The Town Council and Warrant Committee held a joint budget session Tuesday night and listened to presentations from the town’s fire chief, code enforcement officer and police chief as well as the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce before discussing potential increases to parking fees and estimating cruise ship fees for fiscal year 2024, which beg…

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7 days ago · Carrie Jones

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