FREEPORT — New Freeport Town Council Chairman John Egan said the coastal town is in a good place heading into the new year, but there are several areas of concern that he expects the council to address in 2020.

Egan, who was first elected to the council in 2016, was just elected to a second three-year term. He served as vice chairman in 2018.

Egan

In a phone interview last week, Egan — who is following Sarah Tracy as head of the council — said the proposed short-term rental ordinance and the town’s recycling program will be big topics before the seven-person council. Councilors will have a broader discussion on their goals for the next year during the Dec. 3 meeting, Egan said.

Egan was not at the meeting last month when more than a dozen speakers voiced their thoughts about short-term rentals, but he said it’s a subject that will get more attention in the next few months.

“I think we’ll continue to take in a lot of input from the community and take a look at what else is going on in small communities around southern Maine and how they’re handling it,” Egan said.

The Town Council is just starting to discuss a short-term rental ordinance. Comments taken at last month’s meeting will act as an information session for the Ordinance Rewrite Committee, which will take a deeper look at the proposed ordinance — found in its entirety on the town’s website — before speaking with other municipalities that regulate short-term rentals. The committee has not set a date to meet on the matter.

“We have a good first start at what a potential ordinance might look like, so we have something to actually respond to,” Egan said, “and I think that’ll be the initiation of what we may do. But we also may decide not to regulate them at all.”

If passed, the ordinance would require that, effective April 1, 2020, short-term rental owners would have to register their properties with the town and include an application, a non-refundable $100 fee and assurance that the rental property complies with health and safety standards. Contact information for a representative with 24/7 availability would also be required.

Egan said there is no obligation for the council to do anything other than be responsible to constituents who have come forward, which has been more than just a handful.

The way the community responded to the council’s decision to reduce the number of recycling containers in town will warrant more conversation, Egan said. Two of the town’s “silver bullet” containers were removed at the end of July in a bid to save money and centralize recycling efforts.

“It was quite a hot issue at the end of the summer,” he said.

The decision to remove the containers at Doherty’s Market at 130 Wardtown Road and at 86 South Freeport Road near the South Freeport Village Store was made, in part, because of concerns of excessive contamination that led the recyclable materials into an ecomaine incinerator at a higher per-ton rate.

The council is collecting data that it will review, and there may be additional decisions coming to help continue to stem the contamination problem. Egan said the town’s Public Works Department has pulled out items that included a lawnmower, a car transmission and rubber boats that were placed in recycling containers.

“Personally, I’m disappointed that we are unable to have public recycling containers, because I think it’s important to reduce our municipal solid waste going into the landfill,” he said. “Ecomaine does a fabulous job, but they can’t do it if the containers are full of contamination.”

Additionally, Egan said he is a big supporter of Regional School Unit 5, which includes Freeport, Durham and Pownal, but the district’s budget continues to put upward pressure on the tax rate. The council doesn’t have any control over the RSU’s budget, but, Egan said, “We’re very focused on the tax burden, and there are plenty of households in Freeport where the property tax is the single biggest fixed expense, and we want to keep the community inclusive for everyone who lives here today.”

Another area of concern for the council is economic development, especially in downtown Freeport. Egan said the council is working with the Freeport Economic Development Council to help shape what the town can do to help pivot the downtown to new commercial uses.

“You don’t have to be an economist to drive through downtown and see the vacancies and that we have an issue with retail spaces being empty for quite some time,” Egan said. “We relaxed parking requirements, and the council might have to do more to stimulate (business).”

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