Justin Day, who served Down East Maine with honor and dignity for more than 50 years, passed away last week. He was 86 years old.
Justin served as the First Selectman of Cooper for many years. He was also the primary assessor, land surveyor, a major land owner and blueberry grower, and the link between the Town and County and State government.
My first interaction with Justin came in 1986, soon after we moved to Cooper. Justin came to my door on an early spring Saturday morning requesting my assistance in complying with a State Department of Environmental Protection order to clean up Cooper’s dump. He didn’t need my professorial expertise, but rather my labor to help clean up the open trash buffet which the local bear and rat population had been enjoying. His quiet but serious demeanor impressed me, and I was glad he asked.
Later that year Justin organized a training for the volunteer fire department. The Department needed some of the 20- and 30-year-old new residents of Cooper to train up and relieve the older generation. My wife and I both got some rudimentary training on the hoses and the equipment in the fire house. The volunteer fire department lasted another 25 years or so, but was eventually disbanded due to low numbers and a scarcity of volunteers under 60.
Justin supported my election to the Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative Board, and appointed me to the Planning Board soon thereafter.
When the State mandated the closure of municipal dumps, Justin led a coalition of Down East Townsman in establishing the Marion Transfer station. Getting independent Towns and their leaders to work together under the threat of State penalties is somewhat akin to herding cats- a thankless task requiring many hours, forbearance and patience. Justin did it. In the end, municipal solid waste management isn’t costing Cooper much if any more than it did when we ran a dump.
Justin watched expenditures carefully, although he did support the purchase of a parcel on Cathance Lake which guarantees the citizens and taxpayers of Cooper access for swimming. It may be something of a headache occasionally (most of the non-resident summer users are area mothers and kids, but not all). The largest expenditure in most towns (half or more) is for education, and the school board and state education funding policies control that more than the Selectmen. In the mid 90s Maine’s state educrats determined that Cooper was a “wealthy” town and state education funding cratered, leading to a big spike in property taxes. There was nothing Justin could do about it.
I led an unsuccessful effort to de-organize the Town, which was the only way we could lower taxes. Neighboring Township 14 (now Cathance Township) had de-organized from Plantation status in the late 70s, and enjoyed better services at half the tax rate Cooper paid. The legislature wouldn’t consider it, although the Education Department somehow found some additional funds for Cooper which lowered the taxes about 15%. Justin was glad the Town still existed, but he had had enough. He came to my house on another early spring Saturday morning in 1996 and told me he would not stand for election as Selectman again, and asked me to replace him. He agreed to stay on as an assessor and eminence grise to train me, and at Town Meeting it came to pass.
Justin taught me about summer and winter road maintenance, dealing with the State and County, contractors, taxpayers, school boards and much more. In recent years I would see him infrequently, when I needed a burn permit or had a question about past practices and history. Last week I was thinking of going up the hill to get a burn permit when I heard that he’d passed, apparently alone and under unfortunate circumstances. He’ll be missed, but he leaves a legacy of service and honor. Rest in Peace Justin.
Jon Reisman is an associate professor of economics and public policy at the University of Maine at Machias. His views are his own. Mr. Reisman welcomes comments as letters to the editor here, or to him directly via email at [email protected].