Topsham selectmen urged not to rely on stimulus
TOPSHAM — While the state budget process is still in the early stages, Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, and Rep. Kerri Prescott, R-Topsham, spoke to the Board of Selectmen Feb. 19 about how that budget and the new federal stimulus package could affect Topsham.
Goodall said the Maine Department of Transportation considers the resurfacing of Interstate 295 northbound from Brunswick to Gardiner a "poster child" for stimulus money, a shovel-ready project that could be eligible for those funds. Gov. John Baldacci was scheduled to announce the intent to award that project on Thursday.
Goodall said the DOT has started meeting with first responders to determine what improvements can be made over last year's resurfacing of I-295 southbound in the same area.
"That road is deteriorating rapidly, some parts worse than others," Goodall said of the northbound highway, adding that the state plans to divert northbound traffic to the southbound lanes, and to send southbound traffic to Route 201, which was also used as a detour during last year's project.
Goodall pointed out that in times of declining revenues and climbing costs, the Legislature is taking on a strong bipartisan tone and is aiming toward passing the biennial state budget with two-thirds support.
Gov. John Baldacci's proposed biennial budget calls for a 10 percent cut in revenue sharing, which would cost Topsham about $80,000. The next budget also calls for elimination of 219 state positions, with 139 layoffs, Goodall said. Other proposals include transporting prisoners out of state, incentives to encourage early retirement, a 2.4 percent cut in higher education funding, and no change in public school funding, he said.
Prescott, who serves on the Business Research and Economic Development Committee, and the Marine Resources Committee, pointed out that many bills coming before legislative committees will affect the state budget directly.
"We have a long ways to go," she said. "For us to say ‘where do we stand right now, and how is this budget going to affect everybody,' it's just too early to tell. ... This is a fluid process and it's changing every day."
Selectman Sandra Consolini asked how a town would apply for federal stimulus package money in Maine. Goodall responded that many projects that will ultimately receive funding are out of the hands of the Legislature and Baldacci.
"They have strings attached, coming straight down from the federal government," he said. "In essence the state is a pass-through for the money."
Goodall added that "typically we have very little, very little discretionary money in that stimulus package," mentioning that if there are projects in Topsham that the Board of Selectmen wants to place on the list for funding consideration, that he and Prescott would bring those items back to Augusta.
He cautioned, though, that the town cannot count on any funds, and that it should proceed as it normally does.
Selectman Jim Trusiani expressed the importance of the town knowing how the state's budget has shaped up – and hence its impact on Topsham – by the time of the town's May Town Meeting.
"The concern I have is, the more that's cut up there (in Augusta), the more it impacts us down here," he said.