Cape councilors talk about … talking

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Town councilors on Monday took another look at the proposed 2016 municipal budget, but spent much of their meeting discussing how to improve their own communications with residents.

Town Manager Mike McGovern presented the draft budget to councilors, although not much had changed from the outlook he presented in January. The budget is expected to increase 6.3 percent, due in large part to the recently approved library renovations.

The 2015-2016 budget is expected to reach $9.8 million, up from this year’s total of $9.2 million, with a property tax increase of 1.56 percent, or a mil rate of 27 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. McGovern said personnel costs account for just over half the budget, with most town employees set to receive a 2.5 percent raise.

Health insurance costs are up $40,400 and worker’s compensation is up 31 percent. Human resource spending will be used to hire a town and School Department assistant “to help with benefit administration and employee handbooks,” according to the town website. 

The costs of the library renovations will be almost $307,000. McGovern said the $4 million debt will be paid off by March 2035. Capital needs will cost about $1.5 million, he noted.

A public hearing will be held May 12 on the budget.

In other business, the council received an update from Councilor Molly MacAuslan, chairwoman of the Appointments Committee, on goals set in November. They including improving communication between councilors and residents of Cape Elizabeth.

MacAuslan presented three ideas for improving communication and transparency, including adding an icon on the town website that would allow easy email exchange, developing a better system for taking minutes at town meetings, and hosting neighborhood forums where residents can talk to councilors.

The idea for the email icon was rejected by most councilors. Council Chairwoman Kathy Ray said it was unnecessary, with others agreeing and saying it was not difficult to find the “contact us” page of the website.

McGovern said having such a prominent feature for sending emails could lead to an increase of irrelevant and unwanted messages.

“You’re going to get a lot of emails that have nothing to do with the Town Council,” McGovern said. 

He said people will email to say they have “a pot hole that needs to be filled” or a “sewage backup” and not realize that councilors are not the people to go to with those problems.

Councilors also debated what type of template should be developed for recording minutes. They agreed that committee chairmen should not be note-takers, as often happens. They also agreed that notes should be thorough, but disagreed about whether word-for-word accuracy was necessary.

Councilor Caitlin Jordan said minutes should be “more than bare bones.”

Councilors liked idea of holding neighborhood meetings, but realized it will take time to work out the format.

“We think we can design it in such a way that it will be rather seamless, but really provide the kind of, you know, give and take that we’re looking to get from the community,” Councilor James Walsh, a committee member, said.  

Walsh said two councilors will probably attend each meeting and they will be held in various neighborhoods.

Councilors decided they will further discuss McAuslan’s ideas at a future workshop meeting.   

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I’m a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I’m from a small town in NH no one’s ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.