The issues on the Island are complicated by its history. Originally it was a private development within the Town of Standish, and the Islanders have a strong tradition of self government. There is also a tradition that the Island is a place to get away from it all. It has a special place in each owners psyche as paradise--a problem less, perfect place. With this feeling of “getting away from it all” goes a desire to keep the Island the way it is--quiet, rural, and rustic.
There is also a bipolar feeling regarding development, that comes about from both its origins as a development and the Island’s unique geographic location within the drinking water supply for the greater Portland area. The Island went to court with the Portland Water District in 1970, agreed to a court ordered maximum of 750 lots with septic systems in 1974, and reached another agreement with the Water District in 1990 to maintain the 750 limit. The Islanders have maintained an attitude that every property owner has a right to build and that this right should be protected.
The Islanders are on the Island to enjoy the Lake and take benefit from its water quality, but the Islanders have also paid to ensure this benefit--probably more so than any other Town on the Lake. Islanders welcome the Water Districts efforts to keep the quality of the Lake high, but sometimes question the Water District’s intentions towards the Island.
Because of the history of the Island, major issues in Town, as documented in the 1999 Community Survey, seem contradictory: water quality and the protection of the environment versus property rights; self rule and participation in Island affairs versus getting away from it all; recreation versus the hubbub of resort/vacation living; the quality of the roads versus traffic and speeding; the operation of the ferry as self funded versus tax supported; and property taxes which stay on the Island versus taxes and fees which go off Island for schools, county and other services..
As the Island writes it history, the demographics of the inhabitants reflect a bipolarity. As more owners retire to the Island, the debate over types of services and quality of services may focus more on adult activities. As new owners come onto the Island, the debate over quantity of services may emphasize more resort/vacation activities.
Curiously, the issues on the Island have not really changed over the years. Self-rule, limiting of development to private residences, recreation, ferry, roads, and taxes were concerns in the 70's, 80's and 90's and are reflected in the Community Survey. Growth and change are not really land use and school issues as in most Towns; but growth and change are quality and quantity of life issues in the Town of Frye Island. The owners want to keep the amenities of island living--rural, rustic, peaceful-- and, at the same time, have the amenities of the mainland--more recreation, smoother roads, more hours of ferry operation. Public safety--continuously improving fire protection, quicker emergency medical services, and more effective police- is also a priority.
Historically, the local economy of the seasonally occupied Town of Frye Island is solely based on the second home/vacation environment of the Island community. However, local businesses or industries have not evolved beyond a single general store with café and the nine-hole golf course. The Town economy is entirely dependent on its property tax income and limited, state and federal grants.
Serving those who buy and/or build new second home/vacation cottages are a local realtor and only 2 to 3 island, cottage based, light maintenance contractors. The one general store/café provides minimal supplies and service. Thus, all food, automotive, financial (except for an ATM at the store), medical, construction, etc. services are on the mainland. With its seasonal occupancy, no commercial or industrial enhancement is envisioned. Survey respondents indicated that they do their shopping before short stays on the Island. Seasonal residents frequent the local communities of Raymond, North Windham, Naples and, sometimes, the Portland area. The entire workforce of the Town resides on the mainland since there are no year round residences on the Island
The Town provides local public services through the Town Meeting form of government. There are unique aspects in the government as outlined in Article 1, Section 6 of the Town Charter. (See Charter at Section 5.2) The Town currently provides education, if required, through School Administrative District (SAD)#6, which also serves Buxton, Hollis, Limington and Standish. The Town provides several other services on its own, relying in many instances on volunteer assistance, private contractors and contracts with other public agencies. Besides its elected officers, which include the Executive Committee of the Island Board of Trustees, it retains a very small administrative staff and is served by elected and appointed boards and committees.
The range of services provided by, or assisted by, the Town includes local road maintenance, water supply, fire protection, limited rescue service and police protection. The Town also assesses property and collects taxes while providing solid waste disposal, development review, shoreland zoning administration and code enforcement, comprehensive planning, a small honor based lending library and an assortment of recreational facilities.
The cost of providing these services has historically been met by volunteer labor, impact of seasonal property renters and the use of outside contractors, public and private, who absorb some of the capital costs for a few services which the Town otherwise have to bear. At present the Town’s only debt service is with SAD#6. However, future capital expenditures, such as water system improvements or ferry replacement may require the need to borrow money. The Town currently, and for the foreseeable future, derives most of its revenues from property taxes, with smaller amounts coming from Town ferry operations, automotive and boating excise taxes and from limited grants-in-aid from state and federal agencies.
The following aspects are deemed critical to the growth of the Town of Frye Island in the next 10 years.
· Growth impact in the Town considering the court ordered 750 cottage / septic system limit, while maintaining the Island environment with a focus on Rural, Rustic and Recreation.
· Public Facilities and Services. Specifically road maintenance, water supply, waste disposal, ferry system as the lifeline between the mainland and island and all related staffing.
· Fiscal Capacity with emphasis on the need to obtain a more reasonable funding formula for the schools budget.
Growth in the town of Frye Island will continue as discussed in other sections of this Plan at a rate of about 6 to 10 homes per year. For the next 10 years this is within the bounds of the 1974 court order which limits the Island to 750 cottages / septic systems. While the number of foundation and building permits were high for 2000 and 2001, this trend may not continue as the national economy vacillates. Nevertheless, continued, even slow growth, will have an impact on the pattern of land use, Sebago Lake and the rest of the regional natural environment. The Town’s fiscal capacity must be able to meet the growth impact on:
· the water supply system
· the ferries and roads
· maintaining the Island’s rural and rustic environment by open space and wildlife habitat.
· increased and improved recreational facilities
· public access to the Town
· other public services and facilities.
Clearly the fiscal capacity to respond to the needs of the Town will be severely curtailed if the Town cannot reach a more fiscally responsible approach to meet it’s commitment toward education in Maine and/or if other sources, such as State grants/funding cannot be found
Regardless of other considerations, the 1974 Court Order restricts Town septic systems to 750. This single fact constrains land use in the Town more than any other factor. There are several areas where the slope of the land prohibits or severely limits home construction. For example, on the West side of the Island the slope is approximately 35% from the west side of the Community Center down toward Leisure Lane (See the Topographic Map 2 and Slope Map, Map 8). This land may not be capable of being developed although there may be enough room on some of the lots on Leisure Lane to allow construction. Every lot will have to be evaluated on its own merits. But, on the East side of the Island the slope is generally less than 15% except for two areas in a resource protection area. (See Map 6). Generally the remaining unused East side lots may be buildable depending on the soil type, slope and wetland condition. Once again each lot must be evaluated on the basis of its particular condition. Before a building permit is issued, in keeping with the 1974 court order the PWD Inspector and Town Code Enforcement Officer must approve the site. This is a routine practice and will continue. Footprint area limits will be defined by building codes for new construction using lot set backs. This may also limit construction on some lots and make them unusable.
The ongoing property assessment by FII of its properties should facilitate a more accurate estimate of the number of buildable lots they own and could sell if within the 750 septic systems limitation. Likewise, the Town should also evaluate any vacant, privately owned lots. By combining these results a true Island build-out capacity could be established for a Comprehensive Plan update. For Future Land Use a special narrative is included at Section 3.11 to supported related GOPs.
Maintaining the Rustic and Rural character of the Island:
Clear cutting between the cottages and the Lake is prohibited by the DEP and the Town Enforcement Officer must maintain a vigilant attitude. Further commercial development, which is currently constrained near the Ferry landing, and Town offices is unlikely, although it is not clear how the privately held land on the South end of the Island might be used. This will be carefully watched and controlled by improvements in the land use ordinances. The Garden Club has added landscaping at the ferry landing and at the Community Center. Other projects are planned as well as maintenance of existing gardens, public facilities and services.
Environmental and Natural Resources
· Water Resources. The current land use maps show that most of the critical shoreline has cottages. Even given this situation, water quality around the Island remains very good to outstanding. The Town is probably more closely controlled and monitored than the mainland for all of Frye Island is under PWD surveillance not just 200 feet from the shoreline as with the mainland lake communities. From the very beginning, the PWD has been against the Island’s development and has taken a strong, positive and beneficial stand on controlling development and sources of pollution on Frye Island. It is not expected that this position of the PWD will change and the Town welcomes and encourages their continued cooperation and controls.
· Water Quality. Based on tests around the Island, water clarity remains high indicating low algae content and nitrate and phosphate levels under control. Erosion on the south west side is a problem whenever the Weir Dam, controlled by the paper company in Westbrook, is used to keep the water level high in the Lake. On the other hand flow must be maintained in the Penobscott River and this at times has led to lower water levels than normal having an impact on the shoreline fisheries.
· Forestry and Agriculture. Soils on the Island are not arable and there is no agriculture activity except for private small flower gardens and kitchen vegetable gardens. Forestry and commercial agriculture are prohibited in the Town by ordinance.
· Animal Habitat. The east side of the Golf Course (the last nine holes) has not been developed. This area of the Island is expected to remain undeveloped and forms a large area for wildlife on the Island. Since it was originally cleared in the 1960’s, it is heavily covered with new growth small trees and there are pockets of small wetland areas. There is a static herd of about 35 deer and an occasional moose swims to the Island. Current ordinances prohibit the use of firearms, bow and arrow hunting, etc. although when the Island is closed it is known that hunters do trespass on the Island. The State Game Wardens are empowered to enforce the no discharge of firearms and other weapons on the Island. There are lots of squirrels, raccoons, a wide variety of birds; some fox, mink and non-poisonous snakes and turtles may also be found almost anyplace on the Island. This environment/habitat must be maintained through good land use management.
Historic and Archaeological Resources
State guidelines call for municipalities to establish a mechanism for review of all construction or other ground disturbing activity within prehistoric archaeological sensitive and historic sensitive areas. Frye Island includes two prehistoric areas, which warrant review and appropriate coordination with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission as to area sensitivity. See Map 10. Special attention is warranted for the noted undeveloped southeastern shoreland.
The numerous recreation facilities and sites addressed in Section 1.11 reveal there is presently a wide array of recreational opportunities available to all Islanders. The major ongoing effort to build a ballfield park for the Town should fill the void of an open playground space. However, as population on the Island increases, especially on peak weekends, needs may increase. Currently the major recreational facilities such as the beaches, golf course and marinas would appear able to absorb the growth estimated for the next 10 years. Land use planning must continue to consider maintaining selected designated areas for recreational development. See current designated areas, Map 1, Land Use.
Public Facilities and Services
There are several major areas of expense that will have to be supported by Island taxpayers or FII. These include a major overhaul of the public water treatment and storage system, and in time purchase of a new ferry as the island population increases. At the very least, the present ferries will have to be maintained at a very high level to include adding an Island take out facility. The ferries are the critical transportation lifeline for the Town. In addition, road maintenance as well as maintenance of other public facilities must be funded. To facilitate operations and reduce congestion at the Island ferry landing, consideration might be given to moving the Town offices to a larger and handicapped accessible facility. Further, a permanent off island, winter office and records storage facility deserves development. A capital investment plan is included in Section 4.3. This plan should be updated annually to program and limit the cost to the taxpayers.
It is believed the most immediate needs for improvement are the ferry system maintenance and the upgrade to the water treatment system. This is estimated at up to $500,000 over the next five years (ferry system take-out facility $100,000 and water system $400,000). Funding could be a combination of FII funds, a Town note and an additional loan through the State Revolving Loan Fund. The possibility exists that a larger or third ferry and additional landing facilities could be considered in the next 15 years. This would be a major expense, in excess of $600,000 for the ferry alone. There are other considerations associated with a large ferry. Licensing requirements are different and ferry captain qualifications are increased. This implies increased cost of operation for the larger boat and increased user fees. As the number of cottages increase, ferry service will also increase. Currently, both boats operate during the high season on Friday afternoons and Saturdays. As a first step in dealing with increased traffic this two-ferry service should be expanded at additional cost to the Town for ferry crews and maintenance.
Town’s Fiscal Capacity
The fiscal capacity of the Town is derived primarily from property taxes. There are not many additional options to increased income. While ferry operations strive to break-even they are often subsidized from tax revenues. Building permits yield an average about $10,000 per year and this is not expected to increase substantially over the next ten years. There are no excise tax opportunities within the Town. User fees, including the ferry, could be increased. For example, a flat rate on water usage, waste disposal, fees for site plan applications and impact fees may be a consideration. But the results are not likely to significantly enhance Town income.
In addition, a decrease in Town services could be considered. The Comprehensive Plan survey and experience strongly indicate the residents desire more not less services. Hence a reduction of services is unlikely.
If the Town is to have the financial capacity to meet the noted needs then the situation with regard to the Town’s share of the schools budget must be resolved. Failing a successful resolution, already exorbitant taxes would be increased and probably act as a deterrent to Island growth. In any event serious efforts to secure any possible State grant funds should routinely be continued.
In 2001, the Town paid over 38% ($534,526) of its budget to education with not one Island child in the school system. Indications are that the Town’s 2002 cost could increase to over $600,000 and exceed 44% of the Town budget. This imposes a severe and excessive burden on the second/seasonal home taxpayer of Frye Island. Plus, it is these taxpayers who will be faced with the Town’s other long term capital expenses.
There are perhaps four scenarios to deal with this situation:
1. The State Legislature and SAD#6 allow the Town to withdraw from SAD#6, establish its own school system, or allow affiliation with a geographically, closer school system.
2. Negotiate a reduced school tax rate or fixed fee for the Town considering there are no students from the Town. Agreement could also include a per student tuition fee should such Island attendance ever occur.
3. Investigate the steps taken by New Madrid, ME where they dissolved their town due to tax burden an in effect became a “ward” of the state.
4. Stay in SAD#6, raise Town taxes as needed and anticipate negative growth in the Town as well as a downturn in existing home sales
Clearly the fiscal capacity of the Town is threatened and there must be an ever-increasing diligence in the management of the Towns financial capacity
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