FALMOUTH — Residents expressed overwhelming support for METRO bus service at a Town Council public hearing Monday night.

The hearing was scheduled after a petition drive gathered enough signatures to put a referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot to end the town’s participation in the Greater Portland Transit District.

All but one member of the public, and all of the town councilors, spoke in favor of maintaining bus service between Portland and Falmouth. Many said the service not only helps residents get around town, but also helps business by delivering customers and employees.

Mike Skillin, co-owner of Skillins’ Greenhouses and a member of the Falmouth Economic Improvement Committee, said the service is essential to his business.

“At any one time several of our staff absolutely needs the METRO to travel from Portland into Falmouth,” he said. “These are important people to our staff and we can’t turn our back on them.”

Skillin also suggested there may be ways to “tweak” bus routes so METRO service is more affordable for the town.

“I hope that common sense and moderation wins out,” he said.

Michelle Smith of Goodwill Industries said the bus service helps employees, customers and donors reach Goodwill’s Falmouth Shopping Center store. 

Both candidates in House District 112, incumbent state Rep. Mary Nelson, D-Falmouth, and challenger John Logan Jones, R-Falmouth, also spoke in support of the bus service.

“When I was first elected to the Legislature four years ago, the first piece of legislation I submitted and sponsored was to make Falmouth a member of METRO,” Nelson  said. “The bus in Falmouth provides public transportation, which is a benefit and a very affordable benefit for the citizens of Falmouth.”

Jones said he thinks there is a better way to fund the service. He suggested that instead of factoring METRO service into the town’s budget, the service should be paid for by fares.

“I’m for buses, but I’m not for things costing taxpayers any more money,” he said.

According to Glen Brand, a member of Friends of the Falmouth Flyer, the bus service to Falmouth makes up only one-third of 1 percent of the town’s annual $40 million budget; in 2012, the service cost Falmouth $117,000.

Michael Doyle, the resident who circulated the petition for the referendum, was the only person who spoke in opposition to the bus service. He said the annual cost of the service was actually $147,000 this year, with $31,000 provided by the state and federal governments. 

Doyle said the bus is empty most of the time – a claim fact other residents disputed.

“I’ve been on the bus probably more than anybody in this room,” Doyle said. “When I’m on the bus there’s two or three commuters during different times of the day, on different days of the week.”

Voter approval of the referendum would mean Falmouth must end its contract with METRO effective Dec. 31, 2013, and provide no further compensation, except to cover existing debt.

Amber Cronin can be reached at [email protected] or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.

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