Brunswick council closes year with parking problems, grim budget news

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BRUNSWICK — The Town Council on Monday closed 2009 with what’s becoming a familiar refrain: Gloomy budget news from Augusta and parking issues at the Maine Street Station development.

The council tabled its vote on a lease agreement between the town and the Brunswick Downtown Association. It was recently reported that the BDA had allowed its non-profit license with the state to lapse. The BDA’s non-profit reinstatement is a condition of approval in the lease, which would allow the organization to manage the welcome center and train station at Maine Street Station.

On Monday, the council did not discuss its reason for tabling the vote.

Meanwhile, according to Town Manager Gary Brown, the town’s coffers will likely get $200,000 lighter thanks to reductions in state revenue sharing. The School Department is also anticipating a $670,000 cut from its current budget, a loss that could force the district to dip into its fund balance.

Both reductions follow Gov. John Baldacci’s unveiling of his supplemental budget last week. Municipalities had been bracing for the governor’s plan, which is attempting to close a $159 million gap in the state’s current budget. 

Locally, the governor’s plan will likely mean the town will remain without an assistant town manager. Brown, who held the position before being named the town’s chief executive this summer, said Monday that belt-tightening would likely prevent Brunswick from filling the job for the next “few years.”

On the school side, Brown told councilors that in 2010 they will be asked to allow the district to draw $670,000 from the district’s fund balance account in order to prevent staff reductions.

The council must approve the district fund balance for non-education spending. According to Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski, the account has a balance of about $5.3 million, $3.6 million of which has come from a freeze on non-essential items and programs.

Perzanoski said Tuesday that the account could be tapped again to fill an anticipated budget gap of $2.2 million for 2010-2011.

In addition to spending reserve money, Perzanoski said the district will look to staff attrition through retirement to avoid layoffs. Still, he said, “we’re not sure we can stem that tide as of yet.”

On Monday, Councilor Ben Tucker urged Brown and the council to think of new ways to open an early dialog with the School Board to avoid the perception of “sudden cuts.”

Brown agreed.

“We’re going to meet more frequently … and have discussions that we haven’t had in a long time,” he said.

Meanwhile, the council in 2010 could be asked to review the so-called reverse-diagonal parking in the Maine Street Station Development. The method is new to the town – and most of the state – and so far town officials have struggled to strike a balance between educating the public and enforcement.

On Monday, Councilor Debbie Atwood relayed correspondence from Doug Lavallee, owner of Scarlet Begonias, a restaurant that recently moved into the development, that his customers seemed surprised by the town’s recent step-up of enforcement.

Lavallee, who has a sign posted on his front door reminding customers to park properly because police have been ticketing, said after the meeting that he doesn’t necessarily want the town to abolish the method, but wished it had given a longer grace period to allow people to adjust.

During the meeting, Atwood echoed those sentiments, adding that perhaps the town should consider larger signs or lengthening the grace period.

But Brown said another grace period would be awkward from a policing perspective, adding that the town didn’t ticket illegally parked cars for 30 days. Police began ticketing Dec. 6, and Brown said they have issued about two dozen tickets.

Of the 142 spaces in the development, 34 require reverse diagonal parking.

Brown said while it may not be prudent to stop ticketing, perhaps officers could use “greater judgement.”

But Councilor Joanne King said she had considered adding an agenda item to abolish the reverse parking, which planners introduced to increase pedestrian safety and squeeze the most spaces into the development. King said she scrapped the idea after learning converting to regular parking would be too costly.

“I don’t understand how anybody can park like that,” King said.

The council was split between maintaining enforcement levels and reviewing the parking method next year.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or