Wiscasset’s legal costs climb

Posted:  Wednesday, December 6, 2017 - 8:00am

Wiscasset has spent $47,204 in legal fees related to the Maine Department of Transportation’s downtown project. The select board voted 3-2 Tuesday to take $16,021 from contingency to cover the most recent litigation.

Vice chair Ben Rines Jr. and members Bob Blagden and Katharine Martin-Savage considered it an emergency expenditure. Chairman Judy Colby and Selectman Jeff Slack dissented. The leaves the board with a contingency of $3,979 for the remainder of the fiscal year which ends June 30, 2018.

Town Manager Marian Anderson said as of Nov. 30, the town owed the Portland law firm of Murray, Plumb and Murray $16,021 for counsel and the court filing that followed. Another $31,183 has been spent by the town as party in interest in Wawenock, LLC’s litigation against MDOT over the downtown project.

The mounting legal expenses didn’t set well with a number of residents attending Tuesday’s meeting. Among them, Sherri Dunbar questioned the board’s motives for initiating the most recent legal proceeding.

Rines defended his decision. The intent of the court filing, he said, was to uphold and defend the town’s ordinances including the historic preservation ordinance. Things might have been different, he added, if the state had worked closer with the town from the outset. Rines has repeatedly expressed his opposition to the project.

Dunbar pointed out in two separate votes, half and almost half of the town’s voters supported the project. “When you look at the numbers, I don’t see how you could go forward with this,” she said.

Others questioned how much selectmen were willing to spend for legal fees in fighting the state.

Blagden responded the board wouldn’t proceed with legal action unless voters authorized it at a special town meeting. “The vote would be about continuing legal action. If a majority of the taxpayers don’t want to proceed with it that will be the end of it,” he said.

Neither the select board nor Anderson could predict what the cost would be if the voters decided to pursue litigation against the state. “Legal fees just run on and on,” Blagden commented.

No date was set for a special town meeting. The board has a second executive session with attorney Peter Murray at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 11.

Also Tuesday night, Wiscasset Public Library Director Pam Dunning, said that suggested funding cuts to the library should be left to voters. Dunning reminded selectmen the townspeople have consistently supported the library’s annual funding request. This past June, voters overwhelming approved the $62,250 requested for the library.

Dunning asked the board to consider that the library is the oldest continuous circulation library in the country. It has been serving citizens since 1799. “This is a strong piece of history for the town to protect and in which this community can take pride,” she added. Dunning asked that her comments be entered into the board’s minutes.

Builder Jason Putnam of Wiscasset offered to have a look at repairing the town’s clock tower. Putnam will share his findings with selectmen at their next meeting. Blagden said he’d like the structural issues within the tower addressed.

Wendy Williams received an EMS service recognition award from Director Toby Martin.