Pausing for a photo after taking their oaths of office Jan. 4 were York County District Attorney Kathryn Slattery, York County Commissioners Justin Chenette, Richard Dutremble and Robert Andrews, and York County Register of Deeds Nancy Hammond. Tammy Wells Photo

ALFRED — When York County Commissioners hold their next regular meeting, Jan. 18, the start time will be 5 p.m. instead of the usual 4:30 p.m., in a bid to provide more opportunity for public engagement.

The new start time was a compromise between those who favored the 4:30 p.m. time slot in place since at least the early 2000s, and a suggested 6 p.m. start time as proposed by newly seated Commissioner Justin Chenette.

Chenette, who was elected to a four-year term representing District 3 – Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, and Buxton – in November, said people in his district wanted better meeting access.

He and several other county officials took their oaths of office at the Jan. 4 organizational meeting. Sworn in were Chenette, re-elected Commissioners Richard Dutremble and Robert Andrews, District Attorney Kathryn Slattery Register of Deeds Nancy Hammond. Sheriff William King was sworn in to his third term previously, and Treasurer Bob Mills was to take the oath of office in the ensuing days.

Dutremble, of Biddeford, was elected chair of the commission; Chenette, of Saco, vice chair.

As well as choosing dates and times of meetings and setting fees for various county services, the board also agreed to commit $27.5 million in remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds, to be split evenly between the planned 58-bed York County Recovery Center project and a first responder training facility. The county received about $40 million in APRA funds. The commission has so far committed $1.5 million to help transform a former Biddeford church into a teen center; allocated $750,000 to Fair Tide for a Kittery wellness hub; and $1.54 million for a regional dredge. As well, the county invested in air quality improvements in several county buildings, County Manager Greg Zinser said.


Two million dollars in county reserve funds is committed to the two projects, along with $2.9 million in federal funds awarded in 2021 and 2022, Zinser said. With an early estimate of $34 million for the building of the training center and separate recovery center, the projects remain about $2.5 million short, but Zinser noted the final estimates are not in, and the county will continue to receive funds from opioid settlements over time and indicated he was  confident the gap could closed.

Dutremble said there are other revenues being explored as well.

The subject of meeting start times had been a part of Chenette’s campaign for the District 3 county commission seat, and he said in a news release when he announced his candidacy in the fall of 2021 that a later start time would encourage participation.

Commissioner Richard Clark said  the 4:30 p.m. start time allows county employees who are scheduled to present at meetings to attend immediately following the end of the workday, rather than having to wait 1 ½ hours to do so — if Chenette’s initial suggestion of a 6 p.m. start time had been accepted. During the discussion Clark also pointed out that legislative public hearings are held during the day.

Clark said he has always made himself available to constituents throughout his years in local government — he was a Wells selectman for several years — and noted that constituents call, and some have knocked on his door. He pointed out the meetings are available at Zoom as well as in person.

“I certainly respect democracy and public participation, but I don’t think moving this to 6 p.m. serves any purpose,” said Clark.


“My district is expecting a greater say in the decision-making process,” said Chenette. “I cannot tell you how many constituents who put me in this seat said 4:30 is not acceptable.”

“We have an opportunity to make York County Commission meetings the most accessible meeting in the entire state,” with a 6 p.m. start, Chenette further said, noting other Maine counties start earlier, and that nearby Cumberland County Commissioners meet at 5:30 p.m..

Commissioner Donna Ring, who worked for the county as an employee for 40 years before retirement, said when she began her job, meetings were held at 7 p.m., with occasional Saturday sessions. She said meetings — except budget sessions, which drew crowds — were not necessarily well attended, but believes starting later would be beneficial. “We are here to answer to the public, and let the public know what is going on,” said Ring.

Andrews said he did not see that changing the time would result in more participation and would make it more difficult for employees who must attend the sessions.

Dutremble said he had just one email from an individual favoring 6 p.m.,  and that others he had talked with  said 4:30 p.m. did not present a problem. He noted a later start time was implemented on a trial basis some years ago, but did not result in greater participation.

“I think we need to put our constituents first; this is the number one issue in my district,” said Chenette. In the end, the board voted 4-1 for a 5 p.m. compromise, with Clark dissenting. The new meeting time will be on a six-month trial.

Following the meeting, Chenette called the 30-minute change a “major step forward.” He said the trial period means the discussion will continue.

“It’s not about the number of individuals who show up to our meetings, it’s about having a meeting time that gives the public the greatest opportunity and choice to participate,” he said.

In other business, commissioners approved a 65.5 cent per mile reimbursement, which is the IRS rate, for those who must use their own vehicles for county business, adjusted the reimbursement rate for meals on county business, and accepted recommendations for costs of services: an accident or incident report remains at the 2021 rate of $20; background check fees will increase $5, to $20; and notarization and attestation fees remain at the 2020 rate of $5 and $10, respectively.

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