Library and YMCA receive requested extra funds

Town Council uses ARPA funds to support the non profits

Carrie Jones

BAR HARBOR—As the snow trundled down, the Bar Harbor Town Council and Warrant Committee met in a joint session to discuss the town’s budget, which will be presented to voters in June. Both elected bodies have a role in the budget process, which has been shepherded this year by interim Town Manager and Finance Director Sarah Gilbert and Town Clerk Liz Graves. Former Town Manager Kevin Sutherland had created the budget with department heads and staff prior to his departure in January.

The Bar Harbor School also has a budget, not created by the town manager, but by school staff. That budget was already approved by the Conner Emerson School Board, but must also be approved by voters and prior to that, it can also be tweaked and discussed by the Town Council and Warrant Committee.


Part of the difficulty of understanding the budget and its impact on property owners (who fund the town budget via property tax) is understanding the numbers.

The budget that will eventually be passed or tweaked again by voters will influence the mill rate. The mill rate then influences the tax bill.

According to Gilbert,

“With the current Town assessment, approximately $2,000,000,000,  an estimate would be – for every $100,000 increase in expenditures, the mill rate increases $0.05.

“$500,000 assessed value in FY23, mill rate $9.32/per $1,000, annual tax, $4,660.

$500,000 assessed value in FY24, mill rate $9.82/per $1,000, annual tax, $4,910 with an increase of $1,000,000 in expenditures.”


Early in the meeting, the Warrant Committee recommended the Jesup Memorial Library’s service enhancement request of an additional $119,320 on top of its yearly funding not be approved.

Warrant Committee Chair Seth Libby said that the warrant committee wanted to make it very clear that they supported the library. The concern is that there will be enhanced staffing funding at the library and he said there probably needed to be a deeper discussion. He was worried about the precedent created and how that would make a commitment and a reliance on the town by the library.

Councilor Gary Friedmann asked for Matt Delaney, the director of the Jesup, to address the committee’s concerns. Delaney said that the library is a quasi-municipal service with more than 4,000 card holders and they are open 40 hours a week. He said that they are a basic public service and they have limited revenue sources. They don’t sell services and don’t receive state or county funding.

“This represents a serious threat to recruit and retain our staff,” he said. “One year of funding would provide us one year of time” to figure out what to do next to get staff pay and benefits up to the town’s level, which was the reason for the request.

After the Warrant Committee left, the council decided (5-1 with Cough voting against) to use ARPA funds this year to fund that amount. ARPA funds were part of the March 2021 COVID-19 relief passed by Congress.

Originally, they’d been discussing tentatively using a portion of the $588,000 federally granted funds after the budget was approved or not approved by voters in June. Similarly, they used ARPA money to pay for the YMCA’s request for an additional $50,000 for operating expenses. Both those items would now not be in the budget for the voter’s decision in June and are now approved via a different mechanism. Cough also voted against the motion about the YMCA.

The Warrant Committee had recommended to fund the Y with its requested $50,000.

The rationale for using the ARPA funds now is that after June and the budget is approved, there may be a different council with a different opinion who would not support a tentative plan to use the funds to support the agencies. Those funds are also being used to pay for a police cruiser (moving it for one year out of the general budget and capital improvement program), a power screen for the Bar Harbor Public Works, and a contracted mental health liaison to work with the Bar Harbor Police Department (split with Mount Desert). ARPA funds must be used by the end of the year. Use of the funds decreases the overall tax burden for property owners in 2024’s budget, which runs from July 2023 to June 2024.


The school’s request for a hybrid van was also discussed. Libby said data supporting the need would be great to see and the Warrant Committee wanted to recommend that the council ask the school to find a more cost effective way to support the need. The ask is for $50,000 for a hybrid van and two charging stations.

School Board Vice Chair Marie Yarborough, who was in the public attending the meeting, said that she can get data about the uses and needs, but said that staff is transporting students multiple times a week in their personal vehicles.

One of the uses for the van is transporting kids to and from school when late or when sick and their parents don’t have personal vehicles or are at work. She said, “Putting kids in staff’s personal vehicles is a liability.”

Later in the meeting, Councilor Jill Goldthwait said she only heard about individual kids being needed to be brought places and wondered why there was a request for a van. In earlier meetings, Principal Heather Webster said that bringing students to the rehabilitative services at places like Willowind was also a use for the van. Councilor Erin Cough asked if ARPA funds could be used for the van. That possibility is now being looked into.


The Warrant Committee had a marathon session the night before, Chair Seth Libby told the councilors. “The idea is to show whether we’re on the same page or we have a difference.”

The committee said that they were in favor of code enforcement fee increases except for vacation rentals by 6%; planning fees increasing by 10%. It also supports the housing community planning position, but not the staff planner position (at this time). The warrant committee said they have no opposition in revisiting that position if the budget climate improves.

Friedmann said that they already had discussions last meeting. “We really beat it to death, I’d say, at the last meeting.”

The council voted unanimously (with Councilor Joe Minutolo recused because he is in a relationship with the town planner) to put the staff planner position in the budget.

There was a brief discussion about parking fines and fees. Parking fines will probably need to be increased to $50 if the parking fees are increased, Police Chief Jim Willis said. It’s currently $30 for a parking ticket.

The council approved a 10% increase to the annual short-term housing permit fee, making it now $275.


Libby said that the Warrant Committee had a long discussion particularly about payments in lieu of taxes, which are voluntary contributions from nonprofits to the town. These agencies don’t have to pay property taxes. The warrant committee recommended the council create a working group to go out to nonprofits and see if they would donate to the Conners Emerson School rebuild.


The Warrant Committee also suggested potentially utilizing the insurance reserve to help cover legal funds. Gilbert said the insurance level is at $500,000 for a reason. If they brought it down, she would suggest replenishing it over several years. If using those funds was approved for an amount such as $100,000, it would be a short term decrease in costs to taxpayers in 2024. It would then have to be brought back up to that level if the council decides. Libby said that the reserves have been there for several years untouched.

Gilbert said she does not have an answer yet about the legality of using cruise ship funds and fees to pay for cruise ship litigation, and that she has been emailing with the legal team at the Maine Municipal Association about it.

Peacock said she didn’t think they should take money from the insurance reserve because it’s there in case the town loses a lawsuit, which could potentially happen.


Also after the Warrant Committee left at 7:21, councilors discussed the communications coordinator position, potentially making it part-time or contractual, and eventually whittling down the salary. Friedmann wasn’t convinced the position needed to be in the budget. Goldthwait said that it could just be an allocation for communications services.

Hochman said he saw this as a backdoor way to get rid of the position. Goldthwait said that a writer could contract to do the services. She said she sees this as a way to work with “figuring out precisely what we need” without locking the council into a position. “I happen to know for a fact that there are writers out” there that you can ask them for two 1,000-word articles a week or a certain number of hours.

Hochman said that things that happened today showed the continual need for the position.

Peacock and Hochman voted to reduce the position to half the year, but the motion did not pass.

A second motion to remove the funding associated with the communications coordinator position and instead create a communications service allocation for $35,000 was made. Peacock and Hochman again voted against the motion.

Note: We’re hoping to update this story with some information from Sarah Gilbert about how these changes would impact the overall budget. She’s currently working on those numbers and once we have them, we’ll either update the story here or put out another quick article.


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