Brunswick unlikely to use Mere Point funds for shore access

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BRUNSWICK — The Town Council will likely use proceeds from the sale of 946 Mere Point Road for uses other than improving the town’s waterfront access.

The money is earmarked for that purpose, but councilors re-evaluated their spending priorities at a public hearing Sept. 5 to address ways to alleviate the tax burden.

A plan that will assign an unknown, reduced portion of the proceeds from the June sale – nearly $440,000 – is expected to come back before the council at a later date, Chairwoman Alison Harris said.

The reduction represents a compromise intended to appease pressure facing the council for greater tax relief, and for greater public access to the water.

Members of the former group were present Monday when councilors held a public hearing to reallocate an additional $200,000 in revenues to reduce the tax rate.

The hearing was planned after councilors learned in July that an unexpected drop-off in state subsidy would cleave the town’s Homestead Exemption reimbursement property tax reimbursement in half.

The $200,000 shortfall meant the council’s use of restored state education subsidy – also $200,000 – had net zero effect on the tax rate increase, which the council had promised to reduce from 3 percent to 2.5 percent if money was restored.

Residents who spoke Monday, including Redwood Lane’s Jean Powers, still sought to hold councilors accountable to that promise. Pressure to reduce taxes has also amplified in the wake of property revaluation notices sent last month, causing some taxpayers to see their taxes spike by unanticipated amounts.

Finance Director Julie Henze proposed a plan to find the $200,000 needed through revenues, but some councilors – in particular, Jane Millett – have eyed the Mere Point Road money instead.

However, councilors feel obligated to preserve the designation of that money, and honor residents who lobbied last summer in favor of more access to the ocean.

Some of those residents went on to sue to town after councilors rejected a petition with 1,100 signatures that would have reversed their September 2016 vote to sell the land and make it a park. That group filed an appeal last week of a Superior Court decision that favored the town.

On Monday, Millett repeated her argument that the town’s “needs versus wants” have changed since the council dedicated the funds a year ago. But her opinion contrasted with the cautious tone from the rest of the council.

Several councilors also questioned the wisdom of using the money to “plug a hole” in the short term, versus using it to make a long-term investment in the town.

If the town wants to reduce taxes, it should cut operational costs, Councilor Sarah Brayman said. Instead, she advocated using the sale money toward a project that creates a “long lasting legacy from this process that was unfortunate to begin with.”

Councilors tended to agree, but noted those investments didn’t have to be in public water access; some floated using a portion of the money to repair the town’s sidewalks or other outstanding projects.

But Brayman urged that at least a portion of the money go toward its original, water-related purpose, and councilors and staff should decide on a worthy project.

Her suggestion quickly gained favor over a proposal from Councilor Steve Walker, who suggested using up to $350,000 to stimulate an existing but unfunded program designed to take care of Brunswick’s public lands, although not specifically its coastal areas.

Going forward, Walker will work with Town Manager John Eldridge to draft a resolution to reduce the funding for waterfront projects.

It’s unclear if that will be ready by the council’s next meeting, where they are expected to vote on funding an additional $200,000 in property tax relief.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

 

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.
  • Chew H Bird

    Expansion of programs, of whatever type, need to come after (and only after), existing maintenance projects are funded and completed. To expand the scope of Brunswick’s “wants” instead of dealing with Brunswick’s “needs” is not responsible. It really is that simple.

  • Paul Whitcomb

    I think councillor Brayman’s idea is best: Cut operational costs. If this can be done efficiently and effectively, both increased public shoreline access and the preservation of public lands heralded by councillor Walker, could be created and maintained. This is the type of investment that will benefit the town of Brunswick in the long-term.
    Three hundred fifty thousand dollars will do nothing to consistently and permanently lower taxes: It would be just a stop-gap measure, initiated and recommended by an individual or individuals on the town council who seem unrealistic and somewhat spastic or at least frantic and impulsive regarding Brunswick’s ability to maintain town government costs.
    If our planning board continues to listen only to commerce and not to
    the public, this town will soon become increasingly similar to
    Lewiston. Everything is “for sale”, according to Brunswick town council.
    Their “plan” is to take in more and more money, and waste it all.
    One area of unnecessary spending is our Public Works Department: Many cities in this country have a smaller Public Works Department than Brunswick’s.
    Had the town council implemented stringent operating cost reductions, the sale of the land at Mere Point would not have been necessary. It would be in the public domain and could have attracted tourists.
    Councillor Millett speaks of “…wants vs needs”. Let’s start with town council member salaries and other areas of town government we can trim down if we are completely honest about it.