Government Spotlight

Capital budget items, paving, demolition highlight Select Board meeting

| Joanne Cole |

In a three-hour-long meeting on November 15, the select board discussed capital items for the upcoming budgeting cycle, considered paving plans, costs, and alternative methods, finalized demolition of the old Public Works building, set new permit and inspection fees, and more.

Fire Rescue, Public Works, Transfer Station vehicle/capital equipment replacement schedules. Looking toward FY23 budget planning, the three departments that account for much of the town’s operating and capital budgets submitted proposed schedules for replacement of big-ticket items.

Each department’s replacement schedule lays out what would be acquired each year of the coming decade(s), the purchases’ estimated costs, a proposed appropriation for the department’s capital reserve account, and the reserve’s remaining balance after the purchases. For FY23, for example, Public Works proposes to buy a $160,000 loader and $75,000 pick-up/plow and seeks a $200,000 appropriation for its capital reserves; $140,000 would remain in its reserves after the loader and pick-up are bought.

Excerpt from the Public Works vehicle replacement schedule

The board had questions about specific items and the schedules and capital process in general. The Capital Improvement Program Committee resets the priorities when it pools and prioritizes requests across all departments, chair Peter Bragdon noted. What, if any, is the role of the board at this stage, he asked.

Board members questioned the lack of context or explanation of why particular items are priorities. Some recalled items that topped the priority list one year only to disappear the next. “We’re supposed to have a five-year plan,” said Bragdon. “We have a one-year plan.”

Town Manager Christine Landes appeared to agree, saying she has “never seen a CIP plan like this.” Landes wants to move next cycle to a five-year program plan, with money put away every year toward goals. For this round, however, Public Works Director Ted Shane, Fire Rescue Chief Jon Kiernan, and Landes will work together to refine the schedules and return to the board.

Proposed paving schedule, budget, methods. Always a lively topic, paving was front-and-center at the November 15 meeting. Public Works Director Ted Shane had submitted a paving schedule with a list of roads to be repaved in the next 20 years, along with estimated costs. Gloucester Hill Road and half of Snow Hill Road are proposed to be paved in FY23, at a total cost of $478,000.

As with the vehicle replacement schedules, attentive board members noticed that the top-priority roads had changed since last year’s list: Penney Road dropped down a few spots, for example. Shane explained his method. He starts with a target around $500,000, identifies needy roads that will fit that amount, and then, informed by years of paving requests being whittled down by the select board, braces for further cuts to whatever number he submits. Shane summed up with characteristic candor: “Every year at budget season, it’s a crapshoot.”

Board members thought need should drive the request, not an arbitrary budget figure, and explored ways to get more roads taken care of. The town could tap its “very healthy undesignated fund balance,” member Tammy Donovan said, to get ahead on roads and capital reserves, both long underfunded in her view. The board also discussed protecting the investment the town has already made, by posting and restricting truck access on paved roads under certain conditions.

Conversation turned to chip sealing. Director Ted Shane is a fan: “You get more bang for your buck.” Significantly less expensive than familiar hot-top paving, chip sealing involves spreading crushed gravel (the “chips”) onto a layer of hot liquid asphalt, then rolling and re-rolling to embed the chips. Shane said the town’s preferred paving contractor thinks the paving schedule cycle could be cut in half, to 10 years, with chip sealing. Tufts Road, North Pownal Road, and part of Bennett Road currently have chipsealed surfaces.

Heat is the key to a good final surface, Shane said–heat from traffic and sunshine–making some roads better candidates than others for chip seal treatment. At the urging of member Dustin Ward, Shane will develop a cost-benefit analysis, outlining which roads are suited to chip sealing and how far down the road list the town can get with chip seal versus asphalt, over a five-year period.

Former Public Works building demolition. Two final adjusted bids for demolition and disposal of the former Public Works building were reviewed. Almighty Waste remained the low bidder. Because of changes to the plan for transport and disposal of demolition materials, its price increased $3000, to $21,245. Within days, Almighty Waste had knocked down the building and begun separating demolition materials to be trucked away.

Fees for code office permits and inspections. The board approved fee increases for permits, registrations, and inspections. Code Enforcement Officer Rick Haas had compared fees in surrounding towns and concluded that New Gloucester is the least expensive town. Fees haven’t increased since 2003 and don’t begin to cover his expenses or time, he said. To encourage safety checks, the board decided against charging for chimney and wood stove inspections. They supported a one-time business registration fee instead of annual ones.

Library Memorandum of Understanding. The board split but ultimately gave the Friends of the Library more time to offer input on a draft Memorandum of Understanding with the Library Board of Trustees. The MOU will clarify and formalize lines of communication and roles and responsibilities, as well as coordination of activities with library staff.

A nine-page MOU was before the board, reflecting recent work by select board liaison Dustin Ward and representatives of the two groups to resolve open issues. Vice chair Larrivee and member Tammy Donovan were ready to approve the document and send it off for signatures. Ward suggested that giving the Friends additional time makes sense “if we want a cohesive and a unified group under this MOU.”

Just enough board members appeared to agree, albeit reluctantly, to allow a narrow window of additional time (3-2, Larrivee and Donovan opposed). A final MOU must be submitted to the select board by December 15, along with an update on th Friends’ efforts to secure status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Covid matters. A note in the Fire Rescue report submitted for the meeting called Covid “still a very real threat to our community” and cited seven Covid-confirmed calls, 14 percent of all EMS calls in October. Member Dustin Ward wondered what those Covid cases and calls typically entail. As Chief Jon Kiernan wasn’t present, board members could only speculate.

Later, board members agreed to have manager Christine Landes write to Governor Mills about the impact the first responder vaccination mandate is having on the town’s emergency services. Vice-chair Paul Larrivee initiated the request, explaining that the ambulance was grounded one recent evening because ambulance drivers must be vaccinated, not just masked. Five on-call members declined to be vaccinated when the mandate took effect. As a result, Landes said, they have been serving on fire response, not direct patient care. The board asked Landes to direct a letter about the mandate’s impact to both the Governor and to Maine EMS.

Seasonal miscellany:

• The Upper Village Christmas tree returns, in a new location next to Veterans Monument. Tree-lighting Saturday Nov. 27 at 5 pm.
Skating at the Fairgrounds this winter? Maybe not, given the maintenance and parking and plowing involved, the board thought. Try Chandler Mill Pond, members suggested.
Winter sand is ready next to the fire station. Two-bucket limit per resident. Enjoy!

To view the video of the November 15 select board meeting, click here. For meeting agendas and supporting documents, including the paving and capital equipment schedules discussed above, click here.