Big projects, possible budget hike, in store for Cumberland

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CUMBERLAND — While the town has managed to avoid an increase in its operating budget in recent years, that may have to change in the 2013 fiscal year.

Still, despite an ever-challenging economy, Cumberland has big projects on the horizon, including the Village Green Revitalization Master Plan.

“We’ve pretty much reached the breaking point of trying to find any more efficiencies,” Town Manager Bill Shane said last week. “At this point we would be looking at eliminating entire programs. … I don’t see the council supporting that type of philosophy going forward.”

Shane said he expects a small increase in the operating budget, and possibly investment back into the capital program.

In March 2011 the Town Council approved a nearly $8 million fiscal 2012 budget, which was down about $22,000, or 0.27 percent. Municipal spending had dropped by about $856,000 in the past five years, down from $8.8 million in fiscal 2007.

“It’s been a real team effort among the department heads,” Shane said. “… Everybody is willing to work as a team … in looking at budgets, and looking at ways to deliver services (and) increase revenues.”

Cumberland established an economic development team, and also streamlined its ordinance process to make it “a lot less bureaucratic to get a project through in the town of Cumberland,” Shane said.

He said there’s been a positive impact on commercial development in town: “We’ve seen more and more people coming in to talk to us,” whereas in the past the town would not have had that opportunity, Shane said.

Exactitude, a South Portland business with which the town approved a credit enhancement agreement last year, broke ground on Route 1 last fall and plans to build a 40,000-square-foot building this spring.

Shane said Central Maine Power Co.’s Raven Farm transmission station on Greely Road could be complete in about eight months.

Last year also saw completion of major improvements to Range Road and Route 88, “both $4 million projects (which) both came in under budget,” the town manager said.

The Village Green Revitalization Master Plan’s first and third phases are expected to ramp up this year.

The first phase includes a 58-lot housing project on the Doane property in the center of town. Bateman Partners of Portland will develop the nearly 41-acre property into a mix of single-family and duplex homes. Occupancy could begin in June, Shane said.

In the third phase, the now-closed Drowne Road School – a 17,600-square-foot building that School Administrative District 75 turned over to the town last year – will be converted by Bateman into a 38-unit senior housing complex. Construction could start this spring, Shane said.

The second phase, to come later, could see the Public Works and school bus facilities moved, and six single-family and 12 duplex homes built in their place. A nearly 43,000-square-foot mixed-use building that would house 20 residential rental units and 14,300 square feet of office or retail space would also be built.

Last July the Town Council unanimously approved a Planning Board recommendation to continue to allow gravel pits in the town’s Industrial Zone, but only through contract zoning. The proposal originally included the town’s two Rural Residential Zones. But a petition circulated by the Cumberland Environmental Action Network called for a gravel extraction ban in the two Rural Residential zones.

That petition went to referendum in June 2011, where it passed, 862-507. Shane noted that it was the first citizen-initiated referendum in Cumberland’s history.

In October the Town Council opted not to seek creation of no-whistle zones at railroad crossings. Residents had asked the panel to look into petitioning the Federal Railroad Administration to create the so-called quiet zones, which, with the exception of emergency situations, would not allow trains to use their horns as they approach and ride over the crossings.

Cumberland has four railroad crossings – at Tuttle, Greely, Longwoods and Muirfield roads – in a 2.6-mile stretch of track. Upgrades to the rail line to facilitate Amtrak service from Portland to Brunswick have required those crossings to be dual-gated.

Councilor Steve Moriarty noted at the time that passenger trains could be traveling at least 60 mph, and freight trains could likely be moving faster, too.

“I think that before we decide that we want to do away with whistles,” he said at the time, “we all have to sort of feel, and in effect experience, trains traveling at that rate of speed through our town before we can really decide what’s best for our residents.”

A three-stone veterans monument at Moss Side Cemetery, which recognizes “all Cumberland residents who have served our country in times of war and peace,” is to be inscribed with names of veterans dating back to the Civil War, and ready for a Memorial Day celebration on May 28.

“It’s been an interesting year,” Shane said. “It’s been an exciting year, as far as growth. I sometimes feel like we have to pinch ourselves a little bit in Cumberland because we’re seeing the interest in development here that no other community is really seeing around us.”

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

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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.