Cumberland budget up 3%; council OKs natural gas plan

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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council unanimously approved the fiscal 2014 municipal budget Monday.

Councilors also backed a memorandum of understanding with a company that wants to extend natural gas service to the area.

The budget will increase nearly $263,000, or about 3.2 percent, to $8.4 million. The capital improvements portion accounts for the bulk of the increased spending; the operating side of the municipal budget will increase just half a percent.

A road paving program constitutes most of the nearly $238,000, or 2.72 percent, capital expenses hike.

On the non-municipal side, Cumberland County taxes could reach nearly $666,000, an increase of 6.78 percent. The School Administrative District 51 assessment could rise 5.29 percent to $13.9 million.

Cumberland and North Yarmouth residents will vote on the school budget twice in June.

Natural gas

The council also unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with Summit Natural Gas.

Last month, the town councils of Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth endorsed Summit’s proposal to extend service into their towns.

The Yarmouth council unanimously approved the MOU on March 21, and Falmouth was expected to vote this week on the non-binding document, which establishes a working relationship between the company and the towns.

The Cumberland council also asked that staff prepare a cover letter to be sent with the MOU, which will encourage the use of local contractors in any proposal Summit accepts for the $72 million project, Town Manager Bill Shane said Tuesday.

Shane has said the Colorado-based company’s project would include laying 1.2 million feet of pipe in the three towns, whose leaders see natural gas as a less expensive way than oil to heat buildings. A natural gas pipeline already runs through the western part of Cumberland.

Summit has projected 86 percent saturation in the three Cumberland County communities within five years, or nearly 7,700 customers, and 95 percent saturation within eight years, or more than 9,100 customers.

The company, which has more than 33,000 customers in Colorado and Missouri, also expects to serve 17,000 in the Kennebec Valley by 2014. About a third of that $340 million project is restricted to union contractors.

Gov. Paul LePage last week criticized the Kennebec Valley labor agreement, noting that almost all of Maine’s construction workforce in not unionized. LePage said the jobs would have to go to out-of-state workers.

But Timothy Johnston, Summit executive vice president and chief strategy officer, said Summit inherited the labor agreement when it acquired the Kennebec Valley Gas Co.

He said Summit does not expect a similar stipulation to apply in the Cumberland County project, with contracts to be awarded through an open bidding process.

Assistant manager

In other business, the council also expressed support for Shane’s request to promote Alyssa Tibbetts, the town’s economic development director, to assistant town manager. The change does not include a salary increase.

The Town Council will formally vote on the appointment next month. It will be the first time in a decade the town has had an assistant manager, according to Shane.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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.