Board tackles paving plan, capital items, elections

| Joanne Cole |

The board of selectmen worked through a hefty 70-page agenda packet on Monday night. Through three-plus hours, they considered near- and longer-term capital budget items, moved the upcoming December 15 special election to the community building behind Town Hall, and set the timetable for election and appointment of charter commission members. They deferred discussing library staff job descriptions until a workshop set for December 2.

On budget matters at the November 23 meeting, the board discussed a long-range paving schedule and proposed 2021-22 paving requests that would see now-dirt Woodman Road, Meadow Lane, and Ayer Road paved.  They also accepted as ‘working documents’ multiyear vehicle and fire apparatus replacement schedules for fire and rescue and public works, and reviewed FY22 capital requests for fire and rescue, public works and the transfer station, sending them on to the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) committee.  The CIP committee will begin its work on December 9, under a schedule the board approved Monday night (p. 56 of the agenda packet). 

Another scheduling question—whether to close down town operations at noon on December 23 as a ‘pre-Christmas Eve’—pitted citizens’ access to town services against making a modest gesture of thanks to town employees.  With Christmas falling on a Friday this year, it was noted that employees would already get the full 24th off as Christmas Eve.  In the end, holiday spirit prevailed and the traditional extra half-day early closing was preserved.     

Paving plans.  Public works’ proposed paving plan drew extensive comment.  Several dirt roads (or sections) are slated for paving next year, while paved roads described last budget season as in dire need of attention have now been pushed years out.  (See proposed FY22 paving budget request on p. 51 of the agenda packet here.  While you’re at it, find your road on the multiyear schedule—now through FY36—on pp. 34-35.) 

Vice chair Linda Chase noted that Chestnut Common, next in line but left on the wayside last year, is now not slated for attention until FY24.  Why, Chase wanted to know. 

Public works director Ted Shane said plans changed following discussions with town manager Brenda Fox-Howard.  If the town’s tradition of underfunding continues, he said, the town’s dirt roads will never get paved.  Because mobilization is a significant cost component for paving contractors, Shane said it makes sense to pave Woodman Road, Meadow Lane, and Ayer Road, all near neighbors, in one go.  Recent improvements to Woodman Road make it a particularly good candidate for paving soon, Shane added.

Town Farm Road leads the list of $602,500 in paving requests, a cost Peter Bragdon described as heartburn-inducing.  Last year voters approved $290,750 in paving.  Instead of paving dirt roads, Bragdon wanted to send the list back for reconsideration, citing Snow Hill Road, one of last year’s high-needs roads, as an example.  George Colby wanted the list weighted more equally between paved and dirt roads. 

Member Tammy Donovan asked director Shane for a detailed cost analysis of maintaining dirt roads, adding that she doesn’t want her own dirt road paved.  A motion failed that would have sent the list back for reworking with a comparative cost analysis.  The board instead voted to accept the current list as a ‘working document’ and to provide supplemental information for voters.  It was unclear whether or when residents would be invited to weigh in on the paving plans.

Multiyear vehicle and fire apparatus replacement schedules and FY22 capital requests.  Accounting for the lion’s share of the 70-page agenda packet were multiyear vehicle and fire apparatus replacement schedules for fire and rescue and public works, and FY22 capital requests from fire and rescue, public works, and the transfer station.  (Peruse at leisure here.) 

Because the Capital Improvements Process committee takes the lead in analyzing and prioritizing capital requests, the board mostly kicked the tires on the vehicle schedules.  On the capital budget requests for FY22 they asked for clarification from Shane and deputy fire chief Craig Bouchard, making some revisions along the way.     

In the end, the board sent the capital requests along to CIP but held back the Stevens Brook dam and culvert replacement project item until estimated costs could be pinned down.  Board members appeared to hold out faint hopes that Shaw Brothers, the contractor lined up when the project was delayed, would hold its bid price for another year.  Manager Fox-Howard will investigate and report back.  Board members also wondered aloud about capital requests for the library and parks and recreation; none were on the table.

December 15 election location and hours.  With the fire station closed because of Covid-19, the board changed the December 15 polling place to the community building behind Town Hall.  They also trimmed voting hours, to 10 am to 7 pm, with the library budget the sole item to be voted.  Absentee ballots and the ballot drop box are available again as an alternative to in-person voting.    

Charter commission election and board appointments.  The board scheduled the vote to elect six members to the town charter commission to take place on next year’s main election day—likely May or July, depending on Covid-19.  The board will appoint ‘their’ three commission members within 30 days after that.

Commendations, thanks, a welcome, a caution.  At the outset, town manager Fox-Howard read a commendation letter to Sharlene Myers, deputy clerk, from Governor Janet Mills.  In it the governor thanked Myers and acknowledged the sacrifices she made as a dedicated public servant in carrying out a safe and secure election in the face of a historic turnout.  Fox-Howard added her own thanks, saying she was proud of Myers and fellow deputy clerk Kim Getchell whom she called “the perfect team.”

Fox-Howard also welcomed and introduced new parks and recreation director Sarah Rodriguez.  She said that Rodriguez brings many years of experience as well as new ideas, and is “a ball of energy.”  Rodriguez, a New Gloucester resident, said she’s excited to build on her prior collaboration with former director Morgan Rocheleau for “this awesome community.”   

Maine’s recent spike in Covid-19 cases didn’t go unacknowledged at the November 23 meeting.  Deputy fire chief Bouchard told the board that the department will soon have rapid-results tests on hand for the crew.  For her part, town manager Fox-Howard said New Gloucester “is sitting right in the middle of towns with rising cases.”  Town Hall may need to revert to appointments-only once again, Fox-Howard cautioned.  “We’re watching it,” she said.     

Watch the November 23 board of selectmen meeting video here.