Government Spotlight

Board considers old Public Works property, updates on Stevens Brook project, job searches

| Joanne Cole |

Updates and longer-term planning highlighted the January 4 board of selectmen meeting. Topics included open positions, the Stevens Brook dam and culvert project, the former public works building and Upper Village master plan, and a soon-to-be open code enforcement officer position as Debra Parks Larrivee plans to retire.

Job searches. Town manager Brenda Fox-Howard reported on searches currently under way to fill the fire and rescue chief and library staff positions. Interest in the chief position has been “huge,” she said, with strong applicants. Interviews are getting under way, she said, and a second round with finalists is anticipated for the week of January 18th.

The library director and assistant librarian positions have also attracted a “strong pool,” including a number of candidates “from away,” Fox-Howard said. Interviews will begin next week.

Stevens Brook project. Fox-Howard gave a status report on the long-delayed project to replace the dam, culvert, and road deck at Stevens Brook on Gloucester Hill Road. She is awaiting updated costs from the project engineers, who are in turn waiting for word from DEP on soil samples and permit requirements.

The general contractor Shaw Brothers Construction will hold its price from last year, Fox-Howard has confirmed, and she is working with them on the timetable for ordering the culvert. The latter proved critical last year, when town meeting could not be held on schedule and in time for Shaw Brothers to order the culvert in advance of the construction season.

However the project cost estimates shake out, Fox-Howard anticipates using $192,000 in capital reserves along with significant bonding. She said the town finance director, Lori-Anne Wilson, is researching interest rates, 10- and 15-year terms, and early repayment options for the most advantageous combination. Fox-Howard will also investigate possible grant funding.

Former Public Works building and Upper Village plan. The former public works building in the Upper Village was on the agenda at Peter Bragdon’s request. Bragdon explained that he wanted to prompt discussion of what steps, if any, should be taken now regarding the building and parcel. Should a committee be formed, for example, and should any funding be included in the FY21-22 budget?

Coincidentally, Fox-Howard reported that she’d gotten a call that very day from a developer interested in purchasing the property – not an offer, she stressed, but an interest. She expressed concern that the building is an ongoing expense and potential liability to the town.

Bragdon asked whether a buyer would have to follow the Upper Village plan or could instead “do their own thing.” Whatever the town does with the property “should align” with the Upper Village plan, board chair Karen Gilles replied. The Upper Village master plan, developed over several years with significant community input and approved in 2015, sets out a comprehensive vision for the area, guiding development and improving safety and access while maintaining the town’s commitment to open spaces.

“You have a nice plan,” Fox-Howard said. She suggested setting aside funds, hiring an outside agent, and having them “market to those specs.”

Recalling similar conversations, vice chair Linda Chase suggested that town planner Scott Hastings reach out to the Greater Portland Council of Governments, in hopes that GPCOG has municipal real estate contacts. A specialist could perhaps offer advice on whether to sell the property as-is, tear down the building, or sell with conditions, Chase said.

Bragdon asked whether a buyer would have to follow the Upper Village plan or could instead “do their own thing.” Gilles explained that there are incentives for following the plan and some specific restrictions. The buyer can’t put in another gas station, for example, she said.

While the long-term plan for the old public works building remains uncertain, the near-term is clearer. Staff will investigate the cost of securing professional planning and marketing help and report back so that funds might be set aside as a resource in the coming budget.

Code enforcement officer. The board voted to workshop the code enforcement officer job description and scheduled that discussion for Thursday January 21. Why take up that position description now? Because Code officer Debra Parks Larrivee is resigning, effective April 1.

Larrivee, who has been with the town since 2003, told NGX that her retirement is long-planned and that “it’s been a good ride.” She said she’ll miss meeting residents but looks forward especially to enjoying grandchildren and gardening.

The board didn’t formally vote on Larrivee’s resignation but did express wishes for her happy retirement. With that, the formal meeting adjourned and the board moved into workshop mode to take up revisions to the personnel policy, one which will apply to the next code enforcement officer.

Video of the January 4 select board meeting will be posted here. Agendas, supporting documents, and Zoom login information for select board meetings can be accessed here.