Brunswick unlikely to use Mere Point funds for shore access

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BRUNSWICK — The Town Council will likely use proceeds from the sale of 946 Mere Point Road for uses other than improving the town’s waterfront access.

The money is earmarked for that purpose, but councilors re-evaluated their spending priorities at a public hearing last week to address ways to alleviate the tax burden.

A plan that will assign an unknown, reduced portion of the proceeds from the June sale – nearly $440,000 – is expected to come back before the council at a later date, Chairwoman Alison Harris said.

The reduction represents a compromise intended to appease pressure facing the council for greater tax relief, and for greater public access to the water.

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Members of the former group were present when councilors held a public hearing to reallocate an additional $200,000 in revenues to reduce the tax rate.

The hearing was planned after councilors learned in July that an unexpected drop-off in state subsidy would cleave the town’s Homestead Exemption reimbursement property tax reimbursement in half.

The $200,000 shortfall meant the council’s use of restored state education subsidy – also $200,000 – had net zero effect on the tax rate increase, which the council had promised to reduce from 3 percent to 2.5 percent if money was restored.

Residents who spoke, including Redwood Lane’s Jean Powers, still sought to hold councilors accountable to that promise. Pressure to reduce taxes has also amplified in the wake of property revaluation notices sent last month, causing some taxpayers to see their taxes spike by unanticipated amounts.

Finance Director Julie Henze proposed a plan to find the $200,000 needed through revenues, but some councilors – in particular, Jane Millett – have eyed the Mere Point Road money instead.

However, councilors feel obligated to preserve the designation of that money, and honor residents who lobbied last summer in favor of more access to the ocean.

Some of those residents went on to sue the town after councilors rejected a petition with 1,100 signatures that would have reversed their September 2016 vote to sell the land and make it a park. That group filed an appeal last week of a Superior Court decision that favored the town.

Last week, Millett repeated her argument that the town’s “needs versus wants” have changed since the council dedicated the funds a year ago. But her opinion contrasted with the cautious tone from the rest of the council.

Several councilors also questioned the wisdom of using the money to “plug a hole” in the short term, versus using it to make a long-term investment in the town.

If the town wants to reduce taxes, it should cut operational costs, Councilor Sarah Brayman said. Instead, she advocated using the sale money toward a project that creates a “long lasting legacy from this process that was unfortunate to begin with.”

Councilors tended to agree, but noted those investments didn’t have to be in public water access; some floated using a portion of the money to repair the town’s sidewalks or other outstanding projects.

But Brayman urged that at least a portion of the money go toward its original, water-related purpose, and councilors and staff should decide on a worthy project.

Her suggestion quickly gained favor over a proposal from Councilor Steve Walker, who suggested using up to $350,000 to stimulate an existing but unfunded program designed to take care of Brunswick’s public lands, although not specifically its coastal areas.

Going forward, Walker will work with Town Manager John Eldridge to draft a resolution to reduce the funding for waterfront projects.

It’s unclear if that will be ready by the council’s next meeting, where they are expected to vote on funding an additional $200,000 in property tax relief.

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