Brunswick budget impact colors council decisions

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BRUNSWICK — The Town Council took action on several items Monday night, with an eye toward reducing spending as fiscal 2016 budget decisions loom.

The first item to receive scrutiny was the final proposal for a “sharrow” bike lane on Federal Street.  

A “sharrow,” also known as a shared lane marking, “simply means there are painted insignias on the road that alert drivers that bicycles are allowed to be riding there,” Councilor Kathy Wilson said.

There have been several versions of this proposal over the past two years, and this iteration reflects input from the Brunswick Downtown Association, Town Planning staff, Police Department, and Federal Street residents, among others, according to the Brunswick Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

Wilson said Federal Street is the only place in the country where four national bike routes converge on one road.

“(Bicyclists) already use Federal Street a lot,” she said. “All this does is make it a little safer.”

The project comes with a price tag of $1,350 to cover paint and signs. Town Manager John Eldridge said there are town funds allocated to cover the proposed costs.

In response, Councilor John Perrault noted that “this is a tough budget time,” and asked if the advisory committee could possibly raise money for a donation to the town to help fund the project.

The council voted unanimously to schedule an April 27 public hearing on the plan.

Councilors David Watson and Stephen Walker next presented a proposed plan for the town to accept the Capt. William A. Fitzgerald USN, Recreation, and Conservation Area from the site of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

The plan examines the natural and historical features of the area, and outlines how the property could be developed with playing fields and walking trails.

“I’m asking you to accept the report as part of the town’s Recreation, Trails and Open Space Management Plan,” Walker said. “I’m not saying we are funding any of the phases. … Any expenditures would come back to this body.”

Watson stressed that accepting the report “is showing the Department of the Interior we are committed to them in the acceptance of this property.”

Walker moved to accept the report as part of the town’s management plan, “with a clear understanding that there is no funding commitment being made by the council at this time.”

The council approved the motion, with Chairwoman Sarah Brayman opposed, after she expressed concern that the proposed athletic fields are placed very near state-designated, critically imperiled habitat.

Councilors Jane Millet and Perrault thanked Walker for the added language in his motion, and Perrault said he thought it was a “great plan.”

Finally, Eldridge brought attention to the fact there have been multiple inquiries into the town’s policy regarding social service agency funding requests.

In a March 31 Memo, Eldridge wrote that the evidence “indicates that the Town Council discontinued funding these requests beginning with the 2007-08 budget.” Town Attorney Stephen Langsdorf said no action from the council would be interpreted as a continuation of that policy.

Perrault moved to establish a committee “to look at how we could find the future funding of social service agency requests,” saying he wouldn’t mind finding funding from other groups to cover the expenses.

Millet stressed that the council should exercise its choice in what agencies to fund, and hoped a committee could look into changing the 2007-2008 policy.

After the meeting, she said that financially, “the situation is much the same as it was in 2007 … but back then they had so many groups they were donating to.”

Millet said she believed it would be worth taking another look at some groups who provide essential social services.

Perrault’s motion was sent to the Finance Committee for review.

During public comment, Ethan Minton, program director of the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, addressed the councilors. “I know what a challenging budget cycle this is,” he said. “… Some of the factors that make it so difficult are exactly why the most vulnerable members of our community need our help.

Minton said after the meeting that about 2,200 Brunswick residents currently access MCHPP’s Food Pantry, or about one in every 10 residents. “That proportion is probably even higher because some of our programs, like the soup kitchen, are no-questions-asked,” he said.

MCHPP has not received any funding from the town since 2007.

The council will hold its next budget workshop on April 16 at 6 p.m., and there will be a public hearing on the budget on May 14.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.