Cumberland council OKs budget, tax hike

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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council on Monday unanimously approved a town budget, and heard a report from the Ocean Access Committee on a potential management plan for the town’s portion of the former Payson property.

The $10.4 million fiscal 2016 budget contains an $8.8 million operating budget, a $747,000 Cumberland County tax, and shifts the Val Halla Golf & Recreation Center and adult education into the general fund. The town already funds those programs, which are offset significantly by revenues.

Offsetting about $922,000 in increased expenses are about $687,000 in non-property tax revenues, due largely to Val Halla being in the general fund. That net $235,000 increase is further offset by about $178,000 in new property values from tax base growth, leaving a net impact to taxes of about $56,000.

The budget would add 3 cents to the current tax rate of $17.40 per $1,000 of property valuation, an increase of less than 1 percent, according to Town Manager Bill Shane. The county tax increase adds another 3 cents.

The impact on Cumberland’s budget from School Administrative District 51 – which accounts for about 67 percent of the distribution – would be 69 cents, a hike of nearly 4 percent.

Consequently, Cumberland’s tax rate would increase 75 cents to $18.15, a 4.3 percent hike. This would cause a $225 tax increase on a home valued at $300,000.

Coastal property

Earlier in Monday’s meeting, the Town Council heard a report from the Ocean Access Committee on a management plan for the town’s 25-acre portion of the former Payson property, which the town purchased last December.

The council will ultimately vote whether to approve that plan.

The $3 million purchase, narrowly approved by voters last November, includes 2,200 feet of shoreline and a 200-foot pier; funds for the acquisition come from a 20-year bond, at a cost of $240,000 a year.

Cumberland bought its portion of the approximately 100-acre property from the Bateman Group, which intends to develop homes on its part of the land, as allowed by a 1997 conservation easement.

A lawsuit the Payson heirs filed against the town and the Chebeague and Cumberland Land Trust challenges the town’s proposed use of the 179 Foreside Road property. A judge could rule this month on whether the lawsuit is dismissed or goes to court.

The Ocean Access Committee, headed by Denny Gallaudet, has given the property a working name: the Broad Cove Reserve.

The group has established a set of stewardship principles, which include encouraging citizens to passively recreate within the preserve’s boundaries, and limiting use of vehicles and bicycles to Beach Road (leading from Foreside Road to the beach) and its turnaround area.

General on-site parking would be available only near the Foreside Road entrance, with handicapped parking at the turnaround. Parking will be limited this year, and so the committee proposes to restrict it to Cumberland residents only, a measure that could continue in future years, Gallaudet said.

Allowed uses would include walking, hiking, some swimming, boating, fishing, shellfishing, picnicking, educational activities, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.

Prohibited uses would include hunting, open fires, fireworks, walking dogs, littering or disposal of trash, and construction or improvements without approval from the committee. Cutting or removal of trees, vegetation or brush, and use of herbicides, fungicides or pesticides without the committee’s approval, would also be banned.

Explaining the dog-walking ban, Gallaudet said “all that watershed is rolling right downhill into Broad Cove. So any runoff is going to hit that very sensitive ecosystem immediately. And it doesn’t take very much in the way of animal waste to cause a problem.”

Parking will be a priority after the lawsuit is resolved, and ongoing questions will include upgrades to the pier, compost toilet options, benches, signs and trails.

The committee consulted with Thomas Bennett, director of the town’s Prince Memorial Library, on the property’s history.

Gallaudet said he learned the town had previously owned the property, about 10 years after Cumberland’s 1821 incorporation, as a way of taking care of the town’s poor. The property served as a working farm for 30 years, before being sold back into the private sector in 1861, Gallaudet said.

“This Ocean Access Committee has really rolled (its) sleeves up and … done a very excellent job,” Council Chairman Tom Gruber said.

The committee meets at Town Hall at 6 p.m. the second Wednesday of each month.

Blackstrap Road

The council also approved a bid from Lewiston contractor Gendron & Gendron for reconstruction of Blackstrap Road. The $1.17 million bid, plus $60,000 for construction contingency, includes widening and paving shoulders, installation of drainage, and improvement of sight distances.

A base course layer is to be applied this year, with final paving next year.

Half this year’s nearly $1 million cost of the approximately 6,500-foot project, stretching from Route 100 to the Falmouth town line, will be paid by the Maine Department of Transportation, with the town funding the remaining $500,000.

The town has been budgeting capital funds towards the project in recent years. All costs greater than $1 million would be funded by the town in fiscal 2017.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or 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.