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Cumberland residents may challenge plan to borrow up to $4.5M for Route 88 upgrades

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Cumberland residents may challenge plan to borrow up to $4.5M for Route 88 upgrades

CUMBERLAND – The Town Council voted unanimously Monday to proceed with a Foreside Road (Route 88) shoulder and drainage improvement project requiring borrowing up to $4.5 million.

The next morning, though, a Hedgerow Drive resident requested a petition to begin the process to send the council’s action to referendum. Jim Higgins, who recently co-founded the Cumberland Taxpayers Association, made the request, Town Manager Bill Shane said.

The petition must be returned to the town clerk within 30 days and signed by at least 10 percent, or about 570, of Cumberland's registered voters.

Higgins on Tuesday expressed confidence about obtaining that many signatures in the time allotted.

“We believe the town has spent way too much money since 2001,” Higgins said. Referring to a recent financial impact analysis report produced for the town, he added, “Town spending from 2001 to 2008 increased 78 percent. Our bond indebtedness has gone from approximately $3 million to 2001 to $10 million and counting.”

Higgins also said the cost per person per year for Cumberland’s town budget is more than $1,000 a year, versus about $560 in North Yarmouth.

“We believe that now is the time to stop this runaway spending,” he said. “… We need to pay off our existing bonds first before we go out and obligate the town taxpayers to any more.”

Higgins said his group plans to launch a Web site, savecumberland.org, in the near future.

This would be the third recent challenge to a Town Council decision. In June, voters supported creation of a contract zone allowing establishment of a credit union on Main Street. In June 2007, a proposed purchase of property to create access to Forest Lake was overturned.

Shane said the town attorney and the Maine Municipal Bond Bank have been consulted to see if a February bid for the project is still feasible.

Monday's council meeting included a public hearing on the project. There was little public comment, and no one expressed opposition to the work.

Shane said at that meeting that if the project goes to referendum, the referendum would probably occur in June and the project would be delayed a year.

The drainage portion of the work will extend from the Falmouth town line to about 600 feet east of Teal Drive, while shoulder widening will run from the Falmouth town line to Schooner Ridge.

The council in October gave Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers the go-ahead to proceed with a design for the project. The work was initially geared toward improving bicycle and pedestrian access, but evolved into a drainage project, Shane said, while the cost estimate grew from the original $3 million to $3.5 million.

Gorrill-Palmer is looking at using three side streets – Sea Cove Road, Town Landing Road and Wildwood Boulevard – to provide opportunities “to direct some of the stormwater in a more organized fashion towards the ocean,” said Al Palmer, senior vice president of the firm.

The existing roadway is paved over concrete. The paved portion is 24 to 26 feet wide and 3 to 5 inches in depth, and the concrete layer is 18 to 20 feet wide and between 7 inches and 9 inches deep. The proposed typical section of roadway would have two 11-foot travel lanes, each with 5-foot shoulders.

The project also would convert the two-way King's Highway to a one-way street leading away from Route 88 and toward Tuttle Road. Additional widening of Route 88 may occur to better accommodate left-hand turns from Route 88 onto Tuttle Road. After the conversion, drivers who now turn left from Tuttle Road onto King's Highway in order to reach Route 88 would drive further on Tuttle to access Route 88.

Paved shoulders could be added on Tuttle Road, and the road could be reclaimed and paved from Route 88 to King’s Highway. Tuttle Road may also be overlaid from King’s Highway to the nearby bridge.

Gorrill-Palmer has pegged the probable construction cost at $5.2 million, including a 15 percent contingency, based on recent bids for other local projects. While that's more than the bond amount approved by the council, Shane noted that the bidding climate is currently favorable for municipalities, with contractors eager to find work.

“This is a big project that … all of the big contractors in our area will be looking at very aggressively,” he said, adding that he thinks the bids will come in under budget.

Those bids, which will be opened Feb. 26, 2010, will determine the scope of the project. In the event the bids are too high, aspects of the project have been sorted in order of priority.

Drainage and shoulder improvements, to address water quality and safety issues, take top priority, and Gorrill-Palmer estimates them to cost $4.2 million. King’s Highway and Tuttle Road work, costing $246,000, is the second priority, followed by the Foreside Road paving overlay, which is $512,000.

Historical markers ($62,500) are fourth on the list and would “point out some of the historical attributes” along Foreside Road, Shane said. Green technology ($150,000), last on the list, comprises tree wells and rain gardens.

All elements of the project are going out to bid.

Councilor Jeff Porter said he supports the project, and he acknowledged that Shane and other councilors were confident that the bids would come in low enough that the entire project would be completed.

“I don’t think that I want to go forward with this project and do the entire thing and not have the overlay,” he said. “It just seems silly to me that we’d go that far. I do think it’s important that we remember that drainage has taken over this project, and God knows, for those of you who live down there, there are significant drainage issues; there’s no question they need to be addressed. But I do believe the overlay is very important.”

Porter noted that $4.5 million is a significant amount of money, but he said that if the project required $300,000 or $400,000 more “to be done correctly,” then he would support that additional amount.

He added that the town does not have the option with the bond to increase it beyond $4.5 million, and that extra funding would have to come from elsewhere.

Shane said funding for the project on a $4.5 million bond would result in a property tax rate increase of between 5 cents and 13 cents per $1,000 of valuation, which would mean an average property tax increase on a $350,000 home of $18 to $44 annually. The increase depends on the interest rate and the amount available in tax increment financing funds to help pay for the work.

The Town Charter allows the council to borrow for any significant infrastructure projects, and establishes the referendum process if enough residents do not think the town should undertake the project or spend that much money.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.