Cell tower issue fades, revenue challenges loom in Topsham

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TOPSHAM — While the town is working to avoid a tax increase next year, a lack of revenue growth could make that goal especially challenging.

Looking ahead to the 2013 fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2012, Town Manager Cornell Knight said last week that “it will be another difficult year because revenues look to be not improving much. … Both the state revenue sharing and the excise tax … just aren’t growing. So it’ll be a challenge to keep the taxes in check, but that will be our goal.”

Formerly town manager of Winthrop, Knight started in Topsham Feb. 1. Staff had filled in during a month-long gap after former Town Manager Jim Ashe retired at the end of 2010.

“I think it’s gone very well,” Knight said of his first 11 months in Topsham. “I’ve enjoyed working here, and meeting new people, and getting through the first budget.”

That $8.09 million fiscal 2012 municipal budget, approved at Town Meeting in June, decreased from $8.14 million in fiscal 2011. But School Administrative District 75 and Sagadahoc County costs pushed the total budget to be nearly $18.5 million, up from about $18.3 million last year.

Revenues were $3.9 million in fiscal 2011 and are expected to decline to $3.6 million in the current fiscal year.

One issue that came to an end recently was the debate over whether a cell tower could be built at 14 Oak St., in Topsham’s Heights neighborhood.

After the Planning Board in June 2010 denied Mariner Tower’s application to build a 75-foot monopole tower, the company sued to obtain the permits the board denied. T-Mobile, which would have been a carrier on the tower, joined Mariner in the lawsuit but withdrew from the case in September 2010.

In October, U.S. District Court Judge John Rich III dismissed the lawsuit. He decided there was no need for a trial based on the argument that Mariner did not properly follow the administrative appeal process.

Knight said the case was closed recently when Mariner did not file an appeal in the time allowed.

Decommissioning of Brunswick Naval Air Station was a major event for both Brunswick and Topsham this year. The Board of Selectmen unanimously approved a resolution Dec. 15 for disposition of former Brunswick Naval Air Station housing at the Topsham Annex.

The board’s vote followed the Brunswick Town Council’s approval of the plan. The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority sought endorsements from both towns before proceeding with the sale of the land underneath the homes to Auburn developer George Schott, whose Affordable Midcoast Housing purchased the buildings last fall.

Renys opened its 16th store in August at the Topsham Fair Mall. The company is leasing an approximately 32,000-square-foot space, part of the former Village Candle site.

Lee Toyota is also under construction at the intersection of Routes 201 and 196 and due to open in March, Knight said.

Topsham also hired a new public works director, Dennis Cox, in April to replace Rob Pontau.

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.