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Commissioners Regular Meeting

Commission Chairman Percy L. Brown, Jr. called the regular monthly meeting of the Hancock County Commissioners to order at 9:03 a.m. on Tuesday, March 2, 2010in the conference room at the county courthouse in Ellsworth with Commissioners Lawson and Joy in attendance.

Adjustments to the Agenda:

MOTION: to add item 4-d, determine a pay rate for the airport manager. (Lawson/Joy 3-0, motion passed)

EMPLOYEE APPRECIATION:

The commissioners presented Patrol Deputy Jeff McFarland with his 20 year service award and Community Corrections Sergeant Florilla Pelkey with her 10 year service award.

COMMISSIONERS:

MOTION: to approve the minutes of the February 2, 2010 commissioners’ regular meeting and the February 4, 2010 commissioners' special meeting. (Joy/Lawson 3-0, motion passed 3-0)

MOTION: to approve $5,000 for Phil Roy for having written the energy grant and there will be another $5,000 due him upon the full execution of the grant. (Joy/Lawson)

Discussion: Commissioner Joy pointed out that the CFO worked on behalf of the county to obtain an energy grant in the amount of $229,900, after the New England states had been turned down for said grant. He also said that the CFO wrote an appeal and the grant was awarded. The commissioners will pay him to administer it. Commissioner Brown stated that this is above and beyond his job as financial officer. (Motion passed, 3-0)

CFO Roy stated that he was asked by the commissioners to do some research regarding the closure of the Dead River pumps and the issuing of gas cards. Shell, Comdata and Rite Express gas/credit cards were discussed at length.

  • Commissioner Brown asked the sheriff’s administrative secretary, Michelle Cote, if she had anything to add regarding the gas cards. She stated that, the sheriff is looking into utilizing Shell but has nothing to add at this time. She reported that Dead River Company may not be closing their pumps, as earlier thought.
  • Commissioner Joy stated that the CFO should spend the next 30 days researching the issue and that all affected stakeholders should meet to discuss their particular needs and present their findings at the April meeting.

AIRPORT:

Airport Manager M. Allison Navia reported that, upon review by the airport advisory committee, Loomacres Wildlife Management has been selected as the most qualified firm to complete a wildlife hazard assessment at the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport.

MOTION: to accept the recommendation from the airport advisory committee for Loomacres Wildlife Management to conduct a wildlife hazard assessment of the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport. (Joy/Lawson 3-0, motion passed)

EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY:

MOTION: to accept the EMA monthly report. (Joy/Lawson 3-0, motion passed)

SHERIFF:

MOTION: to approve the drug task force forfeiture in the amount of $1,044 in the case of the State of Maine vs. Royal L. Colby. (Lawson/Joy 3-0, motion passed)

Discussion: Distribution of funds was discussed.

MOTION: to approve the drug task force forfeiture in the amount of $1,400 in the case of the State of Maine vs. Bridgette M. Walker. (Joy/Lawson 3-0, motion passed)

MOTION: to approve the drug task force forfeiture in the amount of $8,759 in the case of State of Maine vs. Evan Bland. (Lawson/Joy 3-0, motion passed)

MOTION: to rescind the motion regarding Evan Bland. (Lawson/Joy) Friendly amendment, that the chairman can sign the Evan Bland drug task force forfeiture, once clarified. (Joy/Lawson 3-0, motion passed)

MOTION: to approve the drug task force forfeiture in the amount of $8,759 in the case of the State of Maine vs. Jason R. Cross. (Lawson/Joy 3-0, motion passed)

Airport continued:

Mr. Jim Fisher of the Hancock County Planning Commission gave a brief presentation regarding the proposed Acadia All American Road grant proposal. He stated that the sea plane ramp and the airport arrival area would be included in this project. The total proposed cost of the project is $125,000; the airport would be responsible for $25,000.

  • Commissioner Lawson stated that the airport ramp is considered a working waterfront and suggested installing picnic tables rather than granite benches.
  • Mr. Fisher assured the commissioners that there would be no problem moving the proposed structures in the future.
  • Commissioner Brown was concerned with how this plan would dovetail with the plans for the seaplane ramp and its availability for emergency use. As part of the 22 Safety Area grant, the gate will be replaced with a wider, bi-pole swinging gate. This project would also bring revitalization to the seaplane ramp area.

MOTION: approval of the Hancock County Planning Commission to apply for the Trenton Scenic By-way grant with the commissioners’ full approval. (Joy/Lawson)

Friendly amendment: and to sign a letter of support. (Lawson, motion passed 3-0)

MOTION: to authorize the airport manager to enter into an agreement with Richard S. Catelle Inc., to perform an Independent Fee Estimate for the Runway 22 Safety Area Project. (Lawson/Joy 3-0, motion passed)

Airport Manager M. Allison Navia stated that marine patrol officer, Tom Reardon, has found that Conrad Smith is the titled owner of The Missing Link, which has been abandoned since August 2009.

  • Title 12 of the Maine Revised Statutes allows for the removal of abandoned watercraft. Due diligence procedures include: (1) checking to see that there is no permit allowing the vessel to be beached on airport property, (2) that the vessel owner does not have permission from the land owner to leave the vessel, and (3) that the county commissioners recognize the vessel as abandoned. Once this process is completed, findings would be submitted to the Director of Conservation and Parks. The director would then contact the Mr. Smith and give him 15 days to remove the vessel. At the end of the 16th day he can relinquish the vessel, take it away, it would become county property.
  • District Attorney Povich stated that the Department of Conservation has been contacted and that according to statute, we have 120 days, after the commissioners have declared the vessel abandoned, to notify the owner to remove the vessel. After that, it is the States responsibility to remove it. Commissioner Brown did not want to be responsible for removing the vessel.
  • Commissioner Brown stated that Mr. Smith should be located and the situation made clear to him as soon as possible. He volunteered to go to Sullivan Granit to discuss the issue with him.
  • Commissioner Joy stated that the process has to be followed. We can not ignore the situation and allow this to happen.
  • The current policy does not address the beach area; this is in the process of being rectified. A code ruling by the Trenton Selectmen may be of help.

MOTION: to declare The Missing Link, presumably owned by Conrad Smith, to be abandoned under section 1866 of Title 12. (Lawson/Joy 3-0, motion passed)

Discussion: Commissioner Lawson suggested asking the Sheriff to find Conrad Smith. Mr. Keene should also be contacted regarding removal of the vessel. Commissioner Brown was willing to meet with Mr. Smith, face to face, before the Sheriff’s department pays him a visit.

MOTION: to set the airport managers salary at $49,000. (Lawson/ failed for lack of second)

Commissioners Brown and Joy were in agreement with an annual salary of $45,000. Commissioner Lawson disagreed, stating that this was not a raise, it is for an entirely new position and that the decision should be made on that basis recognizing her professional training in airport management.

MOTION: to set the airport managers salary at $46,000. (Joy/Brown)

Discussion: Education and experience should be considered as factors in the decision. Commissioner Lawson stated that Ms. Navia came on board as a qualified airport manager and should be respected as a professional. When she started there were two airport employees, now there are five.

  • Commissioner Joy questioned the salaries of the Augusta, Presque Isle, Bangor and Rockland airport managers and would like to know their years of experience. Commissioner Lawson suggested discussing the requested information at the April meeting. (motion and second withdrawn)

MOTION: to take no action on item 4-d at this time. (Joy/Lawson 3-0, motion passed)

11:00 a.m.: Break

11:10 a.m.: Back in session

MAINTENANCE:

MOTION: to approve the facilities director’s request to send out an RFP for power supply. (Joy/Lawson)

Discussion: Commissioner Brown was not convinced that this was a good move. Facilities Director Davis stated that this is just “testing the waters;” we can choose to stay exactly where we are. Commissioner Joy felt this was a good exercise and was pleased that the facilities director was moving forward with the process. (Motion passed 3-0)

OFFICE of FINANCIAL AFFAIRS:

Commissioner Brown stated that when he was signing the warrant last Thursday, he came across a payment for $4,000 for IT services for the sheriff’s department and jail.

  • Commissioner Lawson stated that we previously had a contract with the former IT provider and that the sheriff is probably following the same pattern. She agreed that a contract would be in order. Commissioner Brown did not feel he had the authority of the board to sign said warrant.

Commissioner Joy has contacted the sheriff regarding the existence of a contract with the Town of Castine. There is none. He felt that the Town of Castine should have a law enforcement contract which would allow them to discuss it at town meetings.

  • CFO Roy stated this will come up during the audit this year. Castine revenues are projected at $18,000 in the FY2010 budget.
  • Commissioner Joy would like to see a more detailed contract/agreement.

MOTION: to approve general fund bi-weekly payroll warrants #10-6 and #10-8 in the aggregate amount of $281,238.93. (Lawson/Joy 3-0, motion passed)

MOTION: to approve general fund expense warrants #10-5, #10-6, #10-7, #10-8 and #10-9 in the aggregate amount of $324,311.58. (Lawson/Joy 3-0, motion passed)

MOTION: to approve the jail and UT warrants #10-21, #10-22, #10-23 and #10-24 in the aggregate amount of $122,954.49. (Lawson/Joy 3-0, motion passed)

CFO Philip Roy updated the commissioners regarding auditing services, stating that Runyon Kersteen and Ouellette have been the county’s auditing firm for five years.

  • Commissioner Lawson stated that she did not have any problems with Runyon Kersteen and Ouellette and that she has been happy with the job they have done, but she had no objections to putting the service out to RFP. Commissioners Joy and Brown agreed.
  • It was agreed that auditing services should be put out to RFP.

CFO Roy stated that he has received a call from Camden National Bank regarding interest rates. The market has been declining and as such the county’s rate will be reduced. He has contacted other banks in researching their rack rates and suggested staying with Camden National for the time being and reevaluating the situation month to month.

  • Negotiated rates compared to rack rates were discussed.
  • Treasurer Catherine Planchart explained the CDares banking program
  • Commissioner Joy suggested moving all county funds from Union Trust/Camden National. CFO Roy felt that going out to RFP would be a bad idea at this time. One year interest rates on CD’s are currently below 1%.

CFO Roy apologized for not getting the jail proposed budget and a discussion regarding the financial printouts on the agenda.

  • The Jail overtime budget is currently overspent by $22,000. Revenues are down as well. The January quarterly payment from the State of Maine does not include the February and March payment.
  • The overtime situation has been created by the current schedule, sick time taken and the filling of vacant shifts.
  • Commissioner Joy stated that sometimes CFO Roy paints a bleak picture without revealing the full picture. He stated that the bottom line budget may not be overspent at the end of the fiscal year.
  • The jail budget timeline was discussed. Approval of the FY2012-2013 jail budget should be on the April agenda.

The Energy Grant RFP has gone out, 13 responses have been received. A walk through will be conducted on March 15th, the bid opening is scheduled for March 28th. Approximately $45,000 will be received from the Federal Reserve next week.

CFO Roy requested changing county credit cards from Bangor Savings Bank or Card Member Services to Comdata MasterCard’s. This would bring all department credit card usage under one umbrella. Commissioner Joy was in agreement but requested department head input and feedback in the transition.

MOTION: that we go to Comdata as the credit card provider for the courthouse on an experimental basis and if it works, we will go to Comdata throughout the rest of the campus. (Joy/Lawson 3-0, motion passed)

12:20 p.m.: Recess

12:50 p.m.: Back in session

RCC/9-1-1:

RCC Director Renee Wellman updated the commissioners on her monthly report.

  • The commissioners agreed that a contract should be in place for IT services for the RCC. If the cost of the service exceeds $2,500 it should be put out to bid. Commissioner Brown suggested asking CBE to subcontract the work.
  • The cost of audio tapes is $25 and information is only released, once subpoenaed. Commissioner Brown questioned the legality of giving the tape out without a subpoena. Commissioner Joy asked if the tapes are subject to Freedom of Access information. Director Wellman will research this issue and report back to the commissioners. CFO Roy stated that Freedom of Access laws are very specific; you do not release any audio information unless you are under subpoena or warrant.
  • Commissioner Joy stated that he has read the conclusion of the Kimball Report and wanted to know if the director felt that the Hancock County facility would be eliminated. She felt that nothing would happen until 2012.
  • Director Wellman stated that astringent requirements will be put on dispatch centers. Eventually dispatch centers will be forced into PSAP centers, adding that Hancock County would like to keep their PSAP because it gives you the most information with the quickest point of contact thus creating minimal confusion.
  • If Bucksport, Ellsworth, Mount Desert, Bar Harbor and Southwest Harbor came on board, staff would have to increase by 4 dispatchers and the budget would increase by approximately $250,000.
  • Commissioner Brown stated that the commissioners should have a say in how the proposed regions would be laid out.
  • Commissioner Joy suggested adding dispatch services to the tax bill. The RCC director was asked to find out how much the 5 towns pay for their dispatch. The mechanism needed to change to a tax based system was questioned, would it be based on evaluation or population and what formula would be used that would be fair and based on state law?
  • Commissioner Brown mentioned moving the RCC to a larger location within the building. This conversation will resume in the near future.

REGISTRY OF DEEDS:

MOTION: to approve the hire of Kathy Damp as a temporary full-time employee at the rate of $15 per hour. No benefits will be included. (Joy/Lawson 3-0, motion passed)

Discussion: Commissioner Lawson objected to the full-time reference. Commissioner Joy viewed this as a cost savings.

Passports are being processed fairly regularly. Advertising would benefit sales greatly; the register was encouraged to do so.

2:10 p.m.: Break

2:15 p.m.: Back in session

UNORGANIZED TERRITORIES:

RCC Director Wellman stated that the Town of Cherryfield is unaware that they have an agreement to cover Township 10 for fire suppression. She encouraged the UT Director to contact the Town of Howland for fire suppression for Nicatous. Fire contracts are not required by the State. Liability issues were briefly discussed.

Unorganized Territory Supervisor Marc Perry discussed the need for fire contracts in UT’s.

  • Currently there are fire suppression contracts with the City of Ellsworth and the Town of Cherryfield which is paid $1,500 annually for fire suppression services in T10.
  • The Town of Osborne would be willing to respond to Townships 16, 32 and 38. The closest fire department to Nicatous is the Town of Howland in Penobscot County.
  • According to the former UT Fiscal Agent, the county does not have to provide fire suppression for the UT’s. Ultimately the State is responsible.
  • Commissioner Brown suggested that UT Supervisor Perry contact the Towns of Osborne and Howland to discuss fire suppression contracts.
  • Commissioner Joy suggested having a mutual aid understanding between the towns and the county. He also requested written clarification, from the State, of who is in charge of fire suppression in the UT’s.

UT Supervisor Perry stated that the county commissioners have the authority to grant permission to ATV Clubs to use county roads.

  • Commissioner Brown was not in favor of granting permission for ATV use of the Nicatous road. He felt it was too dangerous due to pulp truck usage.

MOTION: to deny the request for use of the Nicatous Road, located in Township 3, for ATV use. (Joy/Lawson 3-0, motion passed)

NEW BUSINESS:

The Freeman v. the Town of Brooksville tax appeal hearing was scheduled for the May 17th.

UT continued:

Commissioner Joy stated that the State of Maine is trying to take TIF’s (tax increment financing) away from the counties. He asked if the county commissioners were concerned about this and asked if Hancock County should send a representative to the meetings on March 4th. It was agreed to leave it alone for now.

COUNTY CLERK:

County Clerk Cynthia DePrenger updated the commissioners on recent meetings with four separate telephone/voice mail vendors. Proposals are due on March 31. She requested that the commissioners schedule a special meeting for demonstrations and brief overviews from each vendor. Department heads and interested employees were encouraged to attend the special meeting, once it is scheduled.

MOTION: to enter into executive session under MRSA Title 1 §405 (6): to conduct a department head evaluation and to discuss a personnel matter. (Joy/Brown 3-0, motion passed)

Commissioner Brown called the meeting back into session at 3:45 p.m. with nothing to report.

A health insurance committee will be formed to look into cost, problems and other related issues, in preparation for next year’s health insurance provider.

OLD BUSINESS:

The Henderson v. the Town of Penobscot tax appeal hearing continuation will be heard at the May 17th commissioners’ special meeting.

The Eaton v. the Town of Castine tax appeal hearing was rescheduled for May 17th commissioners’ special meeting.

Tax Appeal Deliberations: FitzGerald v. the Town of Swan’s Island

Commissioner Lawson stated that, per State instructions, the definition of the commissioners’ duties is to determine if the appellant property has been over assessed and if so what the abatement should be. If the commissioners determine that property has not been over assessed, their work is done. MRSA 70A provides general assessment standards; it does not specify exact methodology which municipalities have to use. She requested that the commissioners keep this in mind as they go forward.

Commissioner Brown stated he has found that it is not the purpose of the commissioners to appraise property, only to determine that the assessment has been applied without discrimination. He also added that to the extent of which the commissioners determine that the property has been over assessed; they must then determine the appropriate abatement. The tax payer seeking abatement carries the burden of assumption of providing the assessed evaluation in relation to the just value is manifestly wrong. He also added that there is no magic formula which constitutes reasonable abatement; the commissioners do not necessarily have to accept specified numbers offered by parties so long as there is sufficient evidence to support their decision.

Commissioner Lawson stated that issues may arise in the context of appeals that are beyond the commissioners’ power and added, a challenge to the legality of a particular assessment, such a contention exceeds the commissioners’ authority to grant relief.

Commissioner Brown stated that the way the Town of Swan’s Island assesses is very unusual, but he has not been convinced by anyone that their method does not work. He felt the burden of proof was on the appellant to provide the proof that the Town of Swan’s Island is wrong. He was not absolutely sure that they have given him the tools that he needs to vote for abatement.

Commissioner Joy stated that the Town of Swan’s Island was charged with reaching a just valuation for all properties. This is usually done by using the fair market value for comparative market analysis based on sales. The Town of Swan’s Island does not use this method. He felt this was a basic flaw in their system. Another way of determining just value is the cost move approach plus depreciation. The Town of Swan’s Island has never reached basic equality.

The assessors can send legal notice asking for information about real estate. Failure to respond can foreclose any abatement request for appeal. The assessors need to understand that they can request this information and if they do not get it, then the appeal for abatement could be stopped. The constitutional requirement of basic equality must be in taxation, it has to be fair and just, uniform and equal. Commissioner Joy stated that he could prove that they were not uniform and equal.

Commissioner Lawson stated that she has no way of proving that the FitzGerald’s have been over assessed. She has not been shown any figures or any information that would let her say that they have been assessed any differently from anyone else or that they have been over or under assessed.

Commissioner Joy felt strongly that the FitzGerald’s have proven their case; they have been treated unequally from the other 29 examples and not one of the houses was assessed at the same value. He stated that the town was close in their valuation but all the other examples are under valued. The basis he used was looking at the pictures provided. There was no square footage and no sales records, so he used the same technology and the same assessment method to say that he is being treated unfairly. Commissioner Lawson disagreed and pointed out that the assessors have visited each home personally.

Commissioner Joy stated that in the Town of Swan’s Island testimony, they admitted to treating the Goodrich property differently. They do not have any idea how their house is valued because they have never dared to go on the Goodrich property. To their admission, they do not treat everyone equally.

Commissioner Brown stated that FitzGerald did not give any assessments. He recognized that the Swan’s Island system may be flawed, but the commissioners can not tell them how to assess taxes. It is their right to do so as they see fit. Commissioner Joy added, “unless it is unjust or unfair to all.” Commissioners Brown and Lawson agreed that the State has told the town that their method is acceptable.

Commissioner Joy stated that in the Basics on Tax Abatement, it points out that when the basis for appeal is over valuation, there are two prevailing standards that guide the commissioners substantive task: the constitutional requirement of basic equality in taxation in Article 9 Section 8, the other standard is the commissioners will be asked to determine its just value. The town has not assigned an equal value to this house compared to its neighbors.

Commissioner Lawson stated that on page 10 of the Basics on Tax Abatement it says if the commissioners determine that the appeal does not fall within their statutory mandate, being to determine whether or not it is over assessed, or that they determine that the proper step leading to the appeal have not been followed, they must dismiss the appeal without addressing the merits.

The home is currently on the market for $595,000 with four bedrooms and four bathrooms.

MOTION: that we grant the FitzGerald appeal on the basis that we found that the taxpayer has been overvalued and has been treated discriminately in his tax assessment in Swan’s island. (Joy/died for lack of second)

Discussion: Commissioner Brown disagreed because he did not feel that the town assessment was unjust. He felt there was no intent to discriminate. Commissioner Lawson stated that most of the property on Swan’s Island is undervalued and has not been treated equally compared to the Goodrich house. This was admitted under oath. Taxation must be equal. Commissioner Lawson agreed but we can not grant abatement without having something to examine to arrive at a figure to decide the abatement. All three commissioners had different opinions.

MOTION: to dismiss the FitzGerald v. the Town of Swans Island tax appeal on the grounds that the commissioners have insufficient information regarding the methodology utilized by the town in making the assessment. As a result the commissioners were unable to find that the property was substantially overvalued, resulting in an injustice or that there was unjust discrimination, or that the assessment was fraudulent, dishonest or illegal (Lawson/Brown)

Discussion: Commissioner Joy stated that following that logic, you are rewarding the Town of Swan’s Island for their flawed assessment and no one will ever be able to win a tax appeal against Swan’s Island. Commissioner Lawson stated that if abatement had been awarded, there is no way that the case would not come back to the commissioners for clarification of their methodology. (Motion passed 2-1) Joy opposed.

Tax Appeal Deliberations: Patten v. the Town of Swan’s Island

Commissioner Lawson felt that the commissioners could not determine if the property was overvalued because of insufficient information. Commissioner Joy felt there was not enough information given on the subject property.

MOTION: to dismiss the Patten v. the Town of Swan’s Island tax appeal on the grounds that the commissioners have insufficient information regarding the methodology utilized by the town in making the assessment. As a result the commissioners were unable to find that the property was substantially overvalued resulting in an injustice, or that there was unjust discrimination, or that the assessment was fraudulent, dishonest or illegal. (Lawson/Brown)

Discussion: Commissioner Joy stated that there were no pictures included in the appeal; therefore he was struggling with his determination. (Motion passed 3-0)

5:19 p.m.: Meeting adjourned.

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