| Joanne Cole |
Over more than three hours on Monday night, the select board tackled bid openings, award of the contract for paving, plans for the town’s parcel in the Upper Village, possible earlier Saturday hours at the transfer station, a policy on remote participation at public meetings, groundwork for anticipated federal American Recovery Program Act funds, and naming a first recipient of the Spirit of America award, and more.
The board made a raft of decisions, but more significant might be what they didn’t do: they didn’t put up for sale the site of the former public works facility in the Upper Village. That and other highlights of the July 19 meeting follow.
Property and plans in the Upper Village. Member Steve Hathorne and chair Peter Bragdon came to the meeting with dueling propositions for the town’s parcel in the Upper Village, site of the town’s former public works facility.
Hathorne wanted the board to plant a For Sale sign on the lot–as is, no demolition–and make a quick strike. “We’re in the hottest market that’s ever been seen,” he said, a prime time to sell. Upper Village zoning is set, and private citizens should be allowed to get in there and develop it. “It’s up to us to make the next move,” said Hathorne, not wait two more years “and miss the market.”
Bragdon instead urged formation of an ad hoc committee to consider next steps for the property and the long-dormant Upper Village master plan. The suggestion of a committee came from interim town planner Paul First, Bragdon explained. First knows the Upper Village plan well from his years of service as New Gloucester town manager and town planner.
Others also wanted to proceed deliberately. Tammy Donovan noted that the Upper Village master plan reflects a comprehensive vision, with small businesses, improved parking, safer road lines. (Learn more about the Upper Village master plan here.) The master plan was approved at town meeting, Donovan said. “We should honor what citizens are asking for.” Paul Larrivee said the Upper Village offers an opportunity to support small business. He expressed concern about rushing into a sale that they might later regret.
Earlier, during public comment, residents Don Libby and Linda Chase had also spoken against a quick sale. Libby referenced the effort and money already invested in Upper Village planning. With the right partners and support, the Upper Village could become as special as other areas of town, Libby said. “We could have something beautiful take place there.” Chase urged the board to clear the site and put “a clean lot” up for development. “Don’t slap a For Sale sign on the Upper Village,” she said.
Ultimately, deliberation prevailed over both the quick sale and set-up-a-committee idea. The board asked town manager Christine Landes to meet with planner Paul First to gather information and report back in August with recommendations and next steps.
Remote participation policy draft on hold. With in-person public meetings resuming after a year of Zoom, and a new state law about remote meetings on the books, towns are developing policies and investigating technological options to permit continued offsite two-way participation.
Manager Landes had shared a draft policy from MMA about remote participation, but at the meeting she recommended taking a wait-and-see approach instead. Attorneys have offered conflicting interpretations of the new law, she reported, and by waiting New Gloucester can watch as other towns explore technology solutions and costs for Zoom-style interaction.
Bragdon said that with opportunities to appear in person or send email, there are options for public comment. But member Dustin Ward said constituents have told him they want remote participation to continue, a point made earlier in an email from resident and NG Cable TV committee member Sarah Gusky Kemer that was read during public comment.
Landes said that many other towns allow comment on individual agenda items, not just at the outset of the meeting, a challenge to manage. “We should have a policy,” Ward said. That policy will come later.
American Rescue Plan Act funds. The board laid groundwork to accept an anticipated $580,000 in federal ARPA funds over two years. The money, intended to support post-pandemic recovery, comes with strings and wrapped in red tape. Manager Christine Landes proposed an ad hoc committee to tackle the complex process ahead, not least to ensure any spending qualifies under the Act’s restrictions.
Investments in infrastructure are a permissible use of the funds. The board decided to convene representatives from Fire Rescue, public works, the water district, and Cable TV committee for discussion of needs and next steps.
Library Trustees’ Memorandum of Understanding. Another item sent off for further review was a proposed memorandum of understanding with the library trustees that addresses roles and responsibilities. The memorandum was developed under the previous select board, and Steve Hathorne wanted this board to have input. Others were unsure about the intent behind the document and wanted to know more. Landes and board liaison to the library Dustin Ward will investigate and report back.
Spirit of America Award to go to the Eagles. The Fraternal Order of Eagles was unanimously chosen as New Gloucester’s first recipient of the Spirit of America Award, which honors volunteerism in Maine. Board members pointed to the Eagles’ many fundraisers and benefit events, their $10,000 gift to Fire Rescue for the Lucas 3 lifesaving unit, their providing flags in the cemeteries. “They do a lot of work for the community,” Tammy Donovan said. Steve Hathorne, himself a member of the Eagles organization, said, “They jump at any opportunity to serve… They deserve recognition for their community service.”
Transfer station Saturday hours to remain unchanged. Chair Peter Bragdon had proposed opening the transfer station an hour earlier on Saturday mornings, to run from 8 to 4 instead of 9 to 5, for the benefit of the early risers who want to get on with their weekend. Residents requested opening as early as 7 am, Bragdon said, and 8 am represented a compromise.
Members discussed the pros and cons (change that green sign? what about residents who like the current hours?). But it was public works director Ted Shane who likely tipped the balance against. In response to a direct question, Shane said the transfer station staff are willing to change the hours but would prefer not to. The motion to change Saturday hours failed, 1-4 (Bragdon).
Bids for new dump truck and associated gear; paving and materials contracts. Voters in June approved the purchase of a new public works dump truck with a plow package and more. Bids were opened and read aloud—seemingly under budget to the uninformed observer—then promptly relayed to director Shane for his review and recommendations.
Next the board awarded the contract for paving to Spencer Group Paving, per Shane’s recommendation. Swamp Road, Megquier Road, Chestnut Common, and Town Farm Road will be paved at a cost of $288,610. Contracts for materials were also awarded to Bowie Excavating, Portland Sand & Gravel, and Pike Industries.