People walk behind Town of Richmond barrier tape Tuesday during primary voting at Richmond’s Public Works Department. Besides a people’s veto and presidential primary, voters in the town were casting ballots about leaving Regional School Unit 2 and extending a tax increment financing agreement. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

RICHMOND — Richmond residents voted Tuesday to explore leaving Regional School Unit 2 and supported extending the life of one of the town’s tax increment financing districts by 10 years.

More than a thousand voters streamed into the Richmond Public Works Garage throughout the day to decide these two local issues in addition to casting votes in the presidential primary and on the statewide referendum on Maine’s vaccine law.

Bob Oullette, 62, was among the voters to turn out Tuesday.

He said he was driving by and saw the Vote Today sign, and stopped in. His goal was to vote on the local issues, but he declined to say how he voted.

Many other Richmond voters stopped at the Public Works garage to vote, but their focus was on the Democratic presidential primary and the statewide referendum on the vaccine law.

Ryan Wimbish, 31, was primarily drawn to the polling place to vote on the vaccine issue. As a parent of a 10-month-old, he supports vaccination.

“I didn’t even know about the school withdrawal,” Wimbish said, but he voted in favor exploring of it, and he also voted to extend the TIF district.

Bob and Donna McCluskey, both 68, came to vote for Elizabeth Warren after considering the options in the primary race, but they knew less about the local issues.

Bob McCluskey said he’d done some reading on school withdrawal. Donna McCluskey said she had heard more about it working at the Isaac F. Umberhine Public Library.

In the final tally, residents voted 739-243 to extend the life of the Pipeline TIF district for an additional 10 years. By doing so, the town of Richmond can shelter the increase in value from the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline natural gas compressor and pipelines that run through town.

TIF districts are a way for municipalities to shelter property taxes generated by new development within designated districts. Sheltering that money means it would not be included in the town’s total property valuation for tax calculations for state purposes, such as state aid for education or revenue sharing.

Without a TIF district, as a town’s valuation increases, revenue provided by the state decreases and the county assessment increases. Any new value sheltered by a TIF district does not count as part of the town’s property tax valuation.

There were 76 blank ballots on the TIF question.

The vote to explore withdrawing from the school district was 623 to 375, with 60 blank ballots. The question included approving $50,000 to pay for the expenses associated with investigating withdrawal, such as legal fees.

This vote is one of the early steps in a lengthy process outlined by the state Education Department for towns considering withdrawal to follow. The process started with the submission of a petition to put the question on a ballot for a special election, which happened in mid-November. A public hearing took place in January.

With this affirmative vote, a four-member withdrawal committee, consisting of a member of the board of selectmen, a town resident, a member of the group that filed the petition and a member of the school board who represents Richmond will be appointed. It will be charged with crafting a withdrawal agreement, which would undergo review at the state level as it is developed and require public hearings at several points in the process.

Once that information has been compiled, the question will go before voters again.

The process could take up to two years to complete.

Election Warden Mary Alioto said turnout was steady throughout the day, with some lines in the morning and at lunchtime.

In the afternoon, there was some concern about running out of ballots, Town Manager Adam Garland said.

In the end, the town ran short of ballots in the Democratic primary. To meet demand, photocopied blank ballots were provided to voters, which meant they had to be hand counted.

“The municipal voting staff did a wonderful job,” Garland said.

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