DURHAM — Residents approved a major new road bond and made substantial changes to the Comprehensive Plan at town meeting Saturday.

The 10-year, $2.1 million road bond will increase property taxes starting in 2020 by an estimated $70 per $100,000 of assessed value.

Townspeople will already see an increase in their property tax bills in 2019, as payments on a road bond approved last year started this year, along with payments on a new fire engine. Altogether with increases in the municipal, education and county budgets, property owners will see their taxes go up 5.9% this year, according to a Board of Selectmen presentation.

Townspeople vote on an article at town meeting Saturday in Durham.

But even in this context, the need for road reconstruction was so compelling, residents voted overwhelmingly to fund the bond. A total of 154 voters were present at the meeting.

Officials warned against alternative solutions, such as taking money designated for maintenance to pay for construction instead of borrowing money, as a situation that would cause more problems than it would solve.

“If the road bond is not approved, Meadow Road is in such terrible condition that we’ll pretty much be forced to take what is now the maintenance budget and invest that in Meadow Road this year. And that will not be a good thing for the roads,” said Kevin Nadeau, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.

With the new bond approved, the town will be able to complete its backlog of about 6 miles of road rebuilding.

“Once completed, it should be several years before another rebuild project will be necessary,” selectmen wrote in their presentation. They also noted that no new bonding would likely be needed for any reason in the foreseeable future.

Voters also overwhelmingly approved a state-mandated Comprehensive Plan for the town, which has been in process since 2016. The plan aims to put into practice townspeople’s vision for their community over the next 10 to 20 years.

In multiple surveys of residents, the planning committee concluded that the majority were focused on preserving Durham’s rural character well into the future. To this end, the committee recommended that Durham seek an exemption from the state’s Growth Management Area requirement, which would have required the town to provide planning and infrastructure for a more densely populated area.

The approved plan for Durham includes attention to preserving and protecting farms, fields, aquifers and wetlands. The current Growth District will be eliminated, and the entire town will be designated as rural. The plan will next go to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry for a finding of consistency.


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