My current term on the Belfast City Council is up this November. By late August I have to decide if I will either run for council again or possibly run for Mayor. I am thinking about it a lot as it’s not an easy decision. Walter Ash has told many people he will not be running this year but has not said so in public. If he does not run I am very likely to run. And I may run even if he does run. I am most concerned with the lack of public discussions with our future, moving the Belfast Maskers property onto the tax rolls in a way which we want, address the energy consumption of Belfast buildings (nearly 10% of our budget at 350,000.00 each year for electric and oil), and other things we need to think and talk about. We have been on cruise control for too long. I’d try to help facilitate that conversation is I was Mayor. But if I was Mayor I will lose my vote. So… I’m not sure. What do you think I should do?
Did you know that almost all property in Belfast can now build what many used to call a “mother in law apartment” on almost every property in Belfast? While some people think this is only for converting an existing garage: it is not so. As long as you can meet the setback requirements (and maybe not even as long as you have an existing building like a garage) you are able to build a “one bedroom” additional separate building and use it for rental, home office, guests, etc. The City changed the zoning to make this possible. We want people to build new apartments. Go to City Hall Planning office or call 338-3063 ext 25 for more information. Or call Mike Hurley at 338-1975.
Dear RSU 71;
You were five individual town schools before SAD 34, then you became SAD 34, then you joined RSU 20, and now there will be five towns of Belmont, Swanville, Morrill, Searsmont and Belfast coming together as RSU 71. The last years have been really tough on everyone. You only get 3 chances to start over again, and this is your latest, and before you start over again many people will have some suggestions for the “new” RSU. I chose to involve myself in the RSU 20 crisis only because the schools had become a distraction for my town and our area rather than an attraction. Whatever might have been is now past us. But the lessons learned over the last few years of debating schools and how to run them, program them, set standards, direction, and policies should not go to waste. Here are a few suggestions for the new RSU.
Come out swinging for the fences. Go big.
It is time for real change. I know little about education but I know that when I hear from parents and potential residents that many, too many, were choosing to not move into our district, opting for home schooling, or sending their kids out of town to other schools and the result was that we have a very serious problem that will not be solved simply by the reforming into RSU 71. Please set the bar high. Restart the RSU with the best foot forward. Our area is too good not to have excellent schools. Reset the clock and double down for quality education. Generate and support enthusiasm for education equal to how our sports teams are supported.
Rename the high school.
There are deep feelings from former and present member towns in the Regional School Unit who feel dominated, disrespected, and disregarded by the largest member town Belfast. I don’t believe it to be true but it is still how some people feel. Truly insensitive and incendiary comments from some during the withdrawal process helped fan the flames of these divisions and made people from other towns feel unwelcome. Changing the name of the high school to an inclusive name would help soothe those feelings and have a long term positive effect. Making all 5 member towns of RSU 71 feel like it is “their” high school that happens to be in Belfast would be a good first step towards creating an RSU where everyone belongs and is equally valued and welcomed.
Figure out how to bring back the cut programs of art, language, music.
The arts, language, etc. are every bit as important as other curriculum or athletics and the cuts and losses of those programs were a real blow to our schools, families, and students. People chose to not move here, took their kids away, solely due to these cuts. Bring it back.
Get your buildings off of oil.
Between solar, heat pumps, pellets, or other wood solutions it’s time to get off oil.
Run your board meetings so that the board and administrators sit close together
. Don’t sit thirty feet from each other. Talk respectfully to each other. Tackle problems head on and find solutions. Don’t let long standing problems fester and become the norm.
Have an “open to the public” period at board meetings that is welcoming of public input.
Set a time limit. Have it in the beginning and have it at the end. People want to be heard. Listen to them.
Lastly: get rid of the mangy old stuffed lions in the high school lobby.
They clog up what is a very small public lobby space at the school. I realize someone wanted these, maybe it seemed like a good idea at the time, maybe a few still love these things but they really have no place in the school. Sell them, give them away, put ‘em on eBay, Perry’s Nut House would love them…..but take back the all too small lobby space for students and school activities.
As a long time Belfast elected official I am looking forward to not having to think about school systems. My hopes are high for RSU 71 as are so many people from our five towns. Don’t even think of going back. Make it aspirational, go big, make it important, be something people can point to with pride and hit the ground running fast.
With best wishes for a new year and a great new RSU 71, Mike Hurley / Belfast City Council
Here is the Belfast commercial waterfront between Front Street and the harbor. It starts at the big Route One bridge and ends at the Belfast Boathouse.
1. Penobscot McCrum
2. Front Street Shipyard
3. City of Belfast (Maskers)
4. Assorted small owners including Purple Baboon, 3 Tides, the tug boats, the Weathervane, and a few others.
5. Heritage Park
6. Consumers Fuel property
7. French and Webb property
8. Steamboat Landing park and boathouse
And that is it. We have been a city and waterfront dominated by large companies: shoes, windows, sardines, railway, chickens, and potatoes. Through good fortune we have reclaimed much of that property: Heritage Park (city purchase) and Steamboat Landing (a gift from Charles Cawley and MBNA) and the BMLRR rail yard. The spaces that Penobscot McCrum and the former Stinson now “Front Street Shipyard” occupy are the majority of the commercial Belfast waterfront.
On the waterfront today are three models for its future development.
1. One (1) is the minimal clutch of small, successful and character-rich businesses near the City Landing – 3 Tides, the Front Street Pub, the Weathervane, Purple Baboon and a few offices and apartments, the former Belfast Boatyard, the towboats, etc. This is much like the rest of the greater Belfast downtown we recognize.
2. The second (2) is ever larger commercial industrial spaces as represented by Penobscot-McCrum, Front Street Shipyard, French and Webb and Consumers Fuel. There is nothing like this development potential currently in the rest of the downtown.
3. City parks and public spaces
The city council favors the first approach (1) because it’s in keeping with the rest of Belfast that people admire most and offers a countervailing safeguard against the large, closed, cookie-cutter developments that have been proposed earlier and have ruined waterfronts in so many communities.
We should remember the Westport Capital Partners condo plan (prior to Front Street Shipyard) that would have made Stinson’s an enclave of $850,000 seasonal homes. Some of us can even recall the city council’s welcoming proposals for development proposals in what is now waterfront Heritage Park to condo developers in 1985. The developers had big plans, including bell towers and marinas, and Belfast voters said: “enough”, and elected a radically new council the next year in protest. The new council quickly preserved the land as Heritage Park.
The Masker’s waterfront has mostly lain nearly fallow for years. The council has until recently declined to plan for the City waterfront land’s future on the sensible grounds that we could not predict the future and the belief it’s better to be reactive and fill in the last spaces.
But the future is now upon us and pressuring us, Front Street Shipyard is looking to expand again, and it is time for the city to put our own house in order and to envision a future that we will want to live in and leave for generations.
Let’s look at what’s here now, starting at the north.
1. The McCrum property is a neighbor to our successful Footbridge and the Passy Rail Trail and will be used for new purposes at some point.
2. The railroad land, which the council paid $360,000 for in the 1980s because it didn’t want the waterfront to be part of a bankruptcy filing by the B & ML, has seen the major improvements by Front Street Shipyard and the minor and reconfigurable development of a $250,000 parking lot and the Thompson Wharf pier. Most of the city’s land is open and unused. We sold a portion of our land near the parking lot to enable Front Street Shipyard to do their yard. The parking lot is also now planned to be sold to Front Street Shipyard.
3. 3 Tides, the Weathervane, the Front Street Pub, The Purple Baboon, etc., are among the biggest present-day draws to the waterfront, none of these owners or anyone like them will be part of the new Belfast waterfront development because the cost will be prohibitive. If you like small business and property owners like 3 Tide’s Dave and Sarah or Front Street Pubs Tina and Katherine we need to find a way to make more space for people like them.
4. The City Landing and Heritage Park are public space and unavailable for development.
5. Consumers Fuel is waiting to be developed, as is the French and Webb building.
6. The Common, the Boathouse and Steamboat Landing parks are owned by the city and protect the south end of the waterfront.
And that’s it.
That’s all we have for the entire develop-able commercial waterfront for the entire City of Belfast.
• Belfast’s waterfront, unlike most small city harbors is dominated by large users. It was taken over in years past and it is still the same. Had MBNA and Charles Cawley not gifted Steamboat Landing and Belfast Commons it would be another vast single ownership.
We have one last chance to develop some more small scale property ownership on the Belfast waterfront. If we see the City of Belfast non-park waterfront land (the Maskers) developed on a scale that fits Belfast we will change our city enormously . To accomplish that, we need a detailed master plan that recognizes and includes these essential elements for the Belfast Maskers/ City of Belfast property:
* Multiple small parcels privately owned: We can discuss what small means but envision 20 x 30 foot lots on 50% of the property with the rest used for parking, lanes, public space, walkways, service access, etc. (if we put 40 of these lots in it would require ½ acre of the 4 acres we own)
* Multiple small uses required, including all sorts of small business, boat building, marine services, inns, retail, residences, offices, entertainment, etc. as possibilities
* A time frame that will include the start of construction of 50 percent of projects by 20xx built into sales agreements.
• What is not envisioned is one corporate entity owning and developing the Maskers property as if it were a mall or a condominium developer.
Including the Masker’s building, the rail buildings, and the parking lot we have four acres , a very small number of acres of City land. If we sold only 40 lots at 50,000.00 (a seemingly fair and low price) the sale would bring in 2 million dollars in sales and once built out could add 10-20 million in valuation. More importantly it would also add the social and business diversity equal to all of Main Street from Rollie’s to the Post Office.
Think of Alexias, the Green Store, Bay Wrap, Colburn Shoe, the Game Loft, Maine Farmland Trust, Darby’s, Del Vino’s, Rollie’s: they are all about 20’ wide x 40’ deep. Think of all the complexity, vitality, life and energy those few 3 story buildings bring to our city.
The idea is revolutionary: to re-colonize the waterfront with independence, safeguarding public access while pursuing private development of small properties by small property owners and business owners; to keep the access to open space that makes our waterfront so distinctive while maximizing business opportunities on private land; and to create a dynamic and exciting template for the future.
The Belfast waterfront has always been occupied, exploited, dominated, and controlled by large industries for their own interests. I hope you’ll join and support the council in considering how we can truly change the city for the better.
Stay tuned. / Thanks/ Mike Hurley
The City of Belfast’s intrepid Ned Lightner filmed the RSU 20 Withdrawal committee members Joan Crabiel and Eric Sanders invited me to join them in making the case for voting yes on withdrawal and reforming for Belmont, Swanville, Morrill, Searsmont, and Belfast. Please take a minute to watch.
It has been less than five years that RSU 20 has staggered along in a failed consolidation attempt. This Election Day: Belfast, Swanville, Searsmont, Morrill, and Belmont will again vote on whether to withdraw and reform with the make-up of the former SAD 34. I don’t have children and I’m 63 so why should I care if RSU 20 spins around in a dysfunctional cloud of dust? Because schools matter deeply to all of our towns. They matter because our tax bills are about 65% to pay for schools. Our taxes have increased repeatedly while cutting many programs that mattered greatly to our towns. These cuts hurt education. Schools matter because the first thing people choosing to move to our towns ask is “how are the schools?” The answer is: troubled, lost without respected leadership, confused and struggling with a forecast of years more of conflict. Schools matter to all five towns because they are an economic development force that can either attract quality educators, caring parents, skilled administrators, and children but just as easily schools can forcefully repel them or send them fleeing. Today we have local parents, educators, employees, and administrators running for the exits or wishing they could hope for change. I wish that there was a chance that the current board of directors and administration could solve our problems but if there was a chance they could lead us it would have started long ago. All you need to know is that if it was up to the RSU 20 board they’d vote in favor of withdrawal in one way or another. They too are exhausted and ready to call it a day. All of the towns including Searsport and Stockton Springs are in the midst of withdrawal. As attempts to right RSU 20 have failed, the main reason to vote yes for withdrawal is to rekindle hope for the future. If we are to calm and improve our schools we need to move on. RSU 20 is not working. To have a chance of moving on from this bad dream and clear the poisoned atmosphere that has hung on us all for the least years we need to reform with Belfast, Belmont, Searsmont, Swanville, and Morrill. The new reformed district will be one we can restore and build on by working together. I will vote YES to withdraw and YES to reform. If we fail to withdraw we’ll be plunged into deeper and darker struggles. Please vote yes for education and yes for Swanville, Belfast, Morrill, Searsmont, and Belmont working together.
Mike Hurley/ Belfast
There are a lot of reasons to support Jonathan Fulford as Waldo County’s next Maine Senator. He won’t cut taxes for the wealthy and pass the bill to towns and schools. Every property owner in Maine is paying for that gift to those who needed it the least. He won’t try to take away voting rights from you, your families, or your neighbors. It’s only a few years ago the Maine’s “people’s veto” had to undo the work of well-trained Republican extremists in the legislature who limited the young, poor, and the elderly right to vote. While nearly every state of the union is quickly and successfully expanding wind and solar; the State of Maine has had a policy of energy development denial. Jonathan Fulford will not turn his back on clean affordable energy. The last four years was supposed to be all about economic development but we are behind every state in New England because of a failed conservative experiment following a national play book that did not work. Jonathan Fulford won’t experiment on Maine. As a current Belfast City Council member and former Belfast Mayor I have seen firsthand the effects of the Maine legislature’s tax cuts and the cuts in school funding and municipal revenue sharing. These cuts hurt every Mainer. Jonathan Fulford will work to restore fair school and municipal support. Jonathan represents decency, honesty, common sense, hard work, and fairness. Please join me and vote for Jonathan Fulford. It is time for a change.
Really? But you can buy an ad every day of your life. I absolutely hate this policy. They’re okay with totally faceless individuals hiding behind internet names like REALMAINER who can say truly just about anything at their “on-line” comments but God forbid someone should put their real name to a letter more than once in two months. Shame on the Bangor Daily News and any other paper with these kind of anti reader policies.
Withdrawal from RSU 20 : Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
• Why these five towns (Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Searsmont, Swanville)?
It’s been less than five years since SAD 34 (Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Northport, Searsmont and Swanville) and 56 (Searsport, Stockton Springs and Frankfort) formed RSU 20. The former SAD 34 towns once benefited from mutual collaborations. The former SAD 34 has over 50 years history, and the facilities are at comfortable capacity levels (most are significantly full). Returning to this format also causes no disruption in educational practices. Northport is pursuing a municipal school system but will send high school students to the New RSU or other schools of their choosing.
• Did committees look at other options?
Yes, many other options were studied (including pursuing separate town school systems) and the present plan was found to be the most economically feasible and to provide the least disruption to students.
• Why are we going through this again? Didn’t we just vote on withdrawal?
Although voters in all five towns voted resoundingly in favor of withdrawal, the vote was not held during a major election and the towns were unable to meet the steep voter turnout requirements in the withdrawal law.
• How will this affect my taxes?
With Northport leaving RSU 20, the Five Towns will save money on their “school bill” if we withdraw. The five towns hired an independent analyst to review the financial consequences of various withdrawal options. The analyst determined that if the schools’ budgets were to remain the same as today, withdrawing would save the towns approximately $300,000 as compared to staying in RSU 20 without Northport. As the analyst pointed out, school costs are more significantly driven by factors such as population shifts and state funding. Those in favor of withdrawal believe that the five towns would be better able to address the challenges posed by these factors in the coming years through a smaller, more involved school board and new leadership.
• Why should we withdraw?
1. Petitioners and a growing number of residents feel withdrawing would make closing schools in the five towns much less likely to happen. All of those schools are full or significantly enrolled, making it difficult to send students to other schools. Supporters believe that dropping enrollment and high per- student costs in the former SAD 56 make RSU 20 a framework that cannot be sustained without cutting programs, closing schools, cutting teacher positions and/or raising taxes. Many believe that withdrawal will provide a measure of security against an uncertain financial climate in the coming years.
2. Other than the consolidated central office and school board, the two districts operate much as they did when they were independent. The former SAD 56 schools serve the towns where they are located and likewise for former 34. SAD 56 teachers teach in their schools and likewise for SAD 34 teachers. Each side of the RSU has its own bus garage and, with only a few exceptions, buses its students to its own schools. Try as many have there is still an often expressed “tension” between the two districts. Separating the districts again will eliminate the potential for the mistrust or resentment when decisions have to be made. As long as there is financial pressure to close schools, there will be resistance and mistrust rather than a true effort to work together.
• What happens to teacher contracts?
All teachers, in both former SAD34 and SAD56 now have the same contract and will be earning the same pay scale. That will not change if withdrawal occurs.
• What happened to the concept of consolidating to one high school?
Although the RSU 20 Board last year considered various options to close and consolidate schools, there was no agreement on a viable plan. Ultimately, the Board opted to table any further discussion on consolidation until after the vote on withdrawal. In the meantime, the discussion of consolidating the high schools has caused Searsport and Stockton Springs to pursue withdrawal. If the five towns are not successful in withdrawing, Searsport and Stockton Springs are likely to push to withdraw.
• When will withdrawal occur, if approved?
If the five towns each approve withdrawal and forming the new RSU at the November 4 election, the withdrawal will take effect on June 30, 2015 and the new RSU will exist as of July 1, 2015.
• What kind of changes should students/parents expect if we withdraw?
Much as when the two SADs combined to form RSU 20, there will be much behind-the-scenes work to transition business into the new RSU. However, the change in administration will not affect the day-to- day lives of teachers and students. Students will stay in the same schools, with the same teachers as they would have if the region continued under RSU 20. The new RSU will have a new school board (with 9 members), and will hire a new superintendent to assist in the transition and to serve the new RSU.
• How much will withdrawal cost?
Costs related to withdrawal include transferring deeds, changing stationary, signage, software, legal costs and other similar expenses that will be a one-time cost. The costs are not expected to be major (less than $150,000) and some portion of them can be spread out over time.
• What will the new RSU do for funds until it can make assessments?
The new RSU will need some funds to handle expenses during the transition time prior to July 1, 2015. Examples include election costs for the new school board, part-time salary for a business manager and superintendent to prepare the RSU to run, legal fees, and startup costs for the central office. The Reorganization Plan has accounted for these expenses and authorized the new Board to spend up to $150,000 for these purposes. These expenses will likely be covered by a short-term loan and/or through distributions from RSU 20 that are required under the withdrawal agreement.
• What is the timeline for the withdrawal process?
There will be two questions on the November 4 ballot. The first question will ask voters if they want to withdraw from RSU 20 in accordance with the Withdrawal Agreements already signed between the withdrawal committees and RSU 20. The second question will ask voters if they wish to reform into a new RSU comprised of Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Searsmont and Swanville. If both of these items are approved on November 4, the withdrawal and reorganization will take effect on July 1, 2015. If the withdrawal vote fails in even one of the five towns, all five towns will remain in RSU 20. If the withdrawal vote passes but the reorganization vote fails, the Reorganization Planning Committee can make changes to the plan and submit it for another vote.
• Why were SAD 34 and SAD 56 consolidated in the first place?
In 2008, a new law mandated the consolidation of school districts around the state, and directed SAD 34 and 56 to consolidate. Penalties were threatened for any non-complying district, and these funds were to be distributed to the districts that did comply. Although it was opposed by many in both districts, the consolidation went ahead to avoid the threatened penalties. However, the law was ultimately changed to remove the penalties and to take away any mandate to consolidate.
• Are other school districts withdrawing?
Yes. The withdrawal statute states that members of a regional school unit that have been members for 30 months may petition for withdrawal. At the present time, nine towns statewide have already withdrawn from their RSUs, ten will be voting on November 4, and another five are considering withdrawal. Locally Northport and Searsport and Stockton Springs are also all working towards withdrawal.
• – Prepared by members of the Withdrawal Committees
An interesting article with lots of charts and Maine does well. Better than 40 states in most counts. 7th overall as “best place to live” but just listen to our Governor bad mouth everything. After the election he’ll be free to move into the real estate foreclosure he picked up at a bargain.