Bath backs legislative bill for city bond

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BATH — The City Council on Wednesday unanimously backed a resolution intended to ensure that the marketability of recently-approved city bonds is not compromised.

The panel also granted second and final passage to a freeze on retail marijuana establishments and social clubs, and adopted an amended order concerning this year’s city wastewater treatment plant update.

The city’s lateness in publishing a proposed borrowing plan last November means the state Legislature must step in. LD 1828, “An Act to Validate Certain Proceedings Authorizing the Issuance of Bonds and Notes by the City of Bath,” was due Friday, March 9, to go to a work session before the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government.

Wednesday’s resolution supported that bill going before the Legislature.

City voters on Nov. 7, 2017 overwhelmingly approved a $2.8 million local bond funding street and sidewalk improvements. The City Charter requires the complete bond ordinance text to “be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the city” between 10-15 days before such a vote, but publication occurred only four days prior to the election, according to the Legislative bill.

Since the bond was not properly published, it is not able to be certified by the bond attorney, City Manager Peter Owen explained last month. The Legislature can override the charter requirement, which Owen hopes will happen this spring.

Failure to publish the text as the charter requires “creates a legal technicality that could affect the marketability of the bonds or notes to be issued by the city in connection with the projects,” the bill notes, adding that the circumstances “create an emergency within the meaning of the Constitution of Maine.”

The city would otherwise need to vote on the ordinance again this June, which could potentially cost it the ability to spend the bonded funds this summer, Owen said. While a special election held earlier is another option, he added, that would cost extra money, and he would prefer not to have taxpayers pay for the mistake.

Owen said the city missed the required publication window because of “a clerical error,” noting that “we are taking steps internally to make sure this doesn’t ever happen again.”

A checklist has been created for future bonds.

A similar situation occurred last December, when the council had to approve, for the second time, borrowing $621,000 for several capital improvement items. While the council had previously approved the bond in two separate votes that spring, as the City Charter stipulates, the city had failed to publish a “notice of final passage” in a newspaper within 10 days.

Retail pot freeze

Also on Wednesday, the City Council voted 6-0 on the retail marijuana moratorium, with Councilor Terry Nordmann abstaining. The decision came more than a year after the council deciding in January 2017 against a freeze on marijuana sales, expecting the state within the next months to establish governance in the matter.

“Unfortunately, the implementation of state-level rules has taken substantially longer than expected,” Planning and Development Director Andrew Deci said in a Feb. 1 council memo. “Entrepreneurs are now pushing the boundaries of the existing medical marijuana program – opening retail storefronts and providing ‘retail’ sales to non-patient customers. The pressure for retail storefronts to open is growing as the rules are still being developed in Augusta.”

City staff consequently proposed a six-month moratorium – which Deci referred to last month as “a pause” – on retail marijuana establishments, as well as “other non-state licensed dispensary options.”

The council voted 5-1 last month to grant the moratorium first passage. Nordmann – who voted at that time against the freeze, saying he was concerned it would discourage business – said Wednesday that he still did not consider the moratorium necessary, but added, “I will not disagree with the entire council,” opting this time to abstain from voting.

Treatment plant funding

The council last month had unanimously approved a $4.7 million bid for this year’s city wastewater treatment plant update. Apex Construction submitted the lowest qualified bid, and the project is to be funded through an $8.8 million grant/loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which the city is matching with $1 million from a 2015 wastewater infrastructure improvement bond.

An order authorizing the contract returned to the council for amending Wednesday, with about $268,000 for contingency and $642,000 in extra work added to the base bid, bringing the contract total to $5.6 million.

The added items had been part of the original project, but cut when the budget estimate began to get too high, Public Works Director Lee Leiner said Wednesday.

“They are very much items of work that need to be done,” he said in an email. “We included them in our bid request as options. With the bid process completed we had a better idea of what we could afford.”

A $2.3 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant toward a wastewater system upgrade, which the city is receiving along with a $6.5 million Rural Development loan, made it possible to restore items that had been removed, Leiner said.

The additional work includes re-facing concrete aeration tanks, installing an extra blended sludge feed pump, and replacing air distribution piping for aeration tanks. The project also comprises the construction of a new sludge storage tank and replacing a sludge de-watering equipment, as well as chemical storage and feeding systems.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.