Newry selectmen Monday discussed the possibility of adding a parking strip alongside the Sunday River Road, across from Artist’s Bridge. 

NEWRY — Selectmen on Monday authorized Town Administrator Amy Bernard to talk with the Maine Department of Transportation and the Maine Historic Preservation Commission about options for parking at the state-owned Artist’s Bridge.

The decision came after discussing the possibility of creating a parking strip along the Sunday River Road, across from the historic wooden structure.

Although the bridge is owned by the state, the town keeps an informal “calendar of events” – mostly weddings – that take place on the bridge.

Code Enforcement Officer Dave Bonney told selectmen that the Planning Board has been discussing the possibility of parking space to improve safety for the area. He said an option could be a roughly 250-foot-long, 10-foot-wide strip starting just beyond the intersection with Roderick Road. A ballpark estimate for basic work might be $10,000, Bonney said.

Bernard said she was concerned about the town providing a parking lot for property “we don’t own.”

Selectman Jim Largess said the bridge situation generally “has made me nervous for a long time.”

Board Chairman Gary Wight added that he was concerned the town might assume more liability if it built the parking lot and “something happened.”

If Newry pursued grants to help with a project, Bernard said, the work would have to meet particular specifications and would likely be more expensive.

The board decided to have Bernard talk with officials at MDOT and the commission to find out who specifically has responsibility for the bridge and what the options might be.

In other business, selectmen appointed Kelly Scott as the town’s third member on the School Administrative District 44 board of directors.

This past summer a special SAD 44 committee had recommended the addition of a new board member from Newry. As part of that change, approved last month by the Department of Education, representatives from each district town will be elected by voters of all SAD 44 towns.

The board of directors has had 14 members – six from Bethel, three each from Woodstock and Greenwood, and two from Newry. Their votes are distributed by “weight” according to town population, with the total votes adding up to 1,000.

The new 6-3-3-3 format will give each member one vote, beginning next year. It will move Newry from having 6.6 percent of the voting power to 20 percent, according to district officials.

Until July 2018, the board’s weighted voting format will continue, with the total Newry votes shared among three people instead of two. As of July 1, each board member will have one vote.

If Scott, who also serves as Newry’s deputy town clerk, wishes to serve after July 1, she must run for the seat.

The change in format is an attempt to satisfy concerns in Newry about representation and to encourage the town to remain in SAD 44, according to some district and town officials.

On another SAD 44-related topic, there will be a districtwide vote Nov. 7 on changing the local school funding formula to shift some of the school tax burden from Newry to the other district towns. Some see the change as another way to encourage Newry to stay in SAD 44.

In discussion at Monday’s selectmen meeting, Newry resident Brooks Morton suggested that if the Nov. 7 referendum is approved, Newry should consider placing the school money saved by the town into an educational trust fund for area students who wish to attend another school, thus providing “school choice.”

Wight said that idea has been discussed, and could be discussed further if the referendum passes.

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