Moratorium sparks spirited debate

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KINGFIELD – Nearly 90 people attended a public hearing Monday night to discuss a proposed industry moratorium ordinance that taxpayers will have the opportunity to vote on May 18.

With Peter Mills moderating, 15 to 20 people spoke, some with lengthy arguments for and against the ordinance, others asking quick questions or asking for clarification.

Proposed in March after Poland Spring Water Co. met with the Planning Board about submitting an application to build a $100 million bottling plant in Kingfield, the ordinance calls for a six-month halt on Planning Board review of “big industrial” projects.

According to Citizens for Our Right to Vote member Susan Mason, the ordinance is designed to give residents the time to make changes to Kingfield’s zoning laws, some of which were suggested in the town Comprehensive Plan and never made.

Specifically, Mason says, the plan calls for industrial zones. Currently, Kingfield has no industrial zones.

But opponents of the moratorium ordinance say the zoning changes were only a suggestion, not a requirement.

Two members of the committee that wrote the original plan in the 1980s, resident Jack McKee and former resident William Gilmore, faced off at the meeting, with Gilmore calling for a moratorium and McKee claiming the proposed ordinance is unwarranted.

Gilmore handed out a list of questions he hopes will be answered before Poland Spring comes to town, if the company comes at all. But other moratorium proponents, like Beulah Moore, maintained the proposed ordinance has nothing to do with the Poland Spring plant.

“We don’t stop and think of things that’s coming up,” Moore said, of why the ordinance changes came up at the time they did. “We like to put (things) off until tomorrow. (Then) we’ve got this great big issue before us,” she said.

To worries voiced by some in the audience that the increased valuation of a $60-to-$100-million plant would raise school taxes for Kingfield people, SAD 58 Superintendent Quenten Clark answered “there’s simply no way to spin the numbers that doesn’t work very well for the taxpayers and the children.” He explained since “the number of kids in our district is declining,” the amount of subsidy is declining as well, which increases the amount of the school budget paid for by residents. Because of how the system is structured, Clark said, even though the different towns in the district pay varying percentages of the school budget, the owner of “a $100,000 house in Stratton pays the same as (the owner of) a $100,000 in Avon.”

“Poland Spring would become the single largest taxpayer in the district,” Clark said, in addition to possibly bringing more students into SAD 58.

About half the people who voiced their opinions at the meeting spoke against the moratorium and for Poland Spring. Many of them said they think with increased economic development, more of Kingfield’s youth will choose to stay nearby.

Clark said “We’re losing our young people. Frankly, they need places to work.”

August Misner, self-described newbie to Kingfield, said he moved to town because “it’s a nice little town,” after spending years as “a flatlander” and serving on boards of selectmen and as a police officer, going to meetings with “big ideas big new schools.”

“Revenue seems to be running out,” Misner said. “We don’t often get a chance, and in fact we won’t, if we have ordinance after ordinance” designed to discourage business in town. Poland Spring will “most definitely benefit this little town,” he added.

Joanne Ryan said after years working in the school system watching recent graduates go away to college and never come back, “it’s about time we started asking ourselves why. We have grads gone off to become docs, lawyers other professional people – many would’ve loved to stay in their hometown.”

But Whit Horn, a young Kingfield newcomer with a carpentry business in town, said he came because “I was interested in finding a better way of living. There’s a lot of people that strive to find an area like this and wish they could come here. And with the computer age we’re learning you don’t have to be in major cities to have jobs.”

People who come to Kingfield “want this stuff because they can’t find it anywhere else,” he said.

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