Cumberland town manager defends borrowing plan for Route 88 upgrade

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CUMBERLAND — If a petition succeeds in forcing a referendum to challenge a plan to upgrade Foreside Road (Route 88), the referendum will be held March 2, 2010, Town Manager Bill Shane said on Monday.

If voters support the Town Council’s Dec. 14 decision to borrow up to $4.5 million for the work, bids will be opened 10 days after the referendum, Shane said, and the project will proceed as scheduled next spring.

The Town Council voted unanimously Dec. 14 for the Foreside Road shoulder and drainage improvement project. The next morning, Jim Higgins of Hedgerow Drive requested a petition to begin the process to send the council’s action to a referendum. The Cumberland Taxpayers Association co-founder has 30 days to return the petition to Town Clerk Nadeen Daniels, signed by at least 10 percent, or about 570, of the town’s registered voters.

Higgins referred last week to a recent financial impact analysis report produced for the town, stating that town spending increased 78 percent from 2001 to 2008 and that Cumberland’s bond indebtedness has risen from about $3 million in 2001 to $10 million.

On Monday, though, Shane said that while municipal spending – one of several budget categories – did rise 78 percent during that time, from $4.7 million to $8.4 million, the operating expense per dwelling unit increased only 48 percent, from nearly $4,600 to almost $6,800. From fiscal 2008 to 2010, municipal spending has declined 12 percent, and the operating expense per dwelling unit has decreased 10 percent, to about $6,100, according to the report.

Meanwhile, total revenue increased 51 percent from $12.9 million in fiscal 2001 to $19.4 million in fiscal 2008, while revenue per dwelling unit has increased 34.1 percent, from about $5,000 to approximately $6,800.

Shane noted that with revenue taken into account, the operating expense per dwelling unit saw a net increase of 14 percent. He also said the town has seen an average tax increase of about 3 percent a year for the past eight years, “and if that’s not responsible, then I don’t know what I can do.”

Shane also said that in the seven years he has been town manager, town employment has decreased by 20 percent, and that the town has continued to share services with other communities in order to cut expenses.

In terms of town debt, Shane said, much of it does not come directly from the property taxpayer. About $5.5 million comes off the property tax rate, while nearly $6 million is paid for through enterprise funds and tax increment financing districts, which do not affect the tax rate, the manager said.

He said the anticipated cost of the road project is about $18 a year for the owner of a home valued at $350,000.

Should the project proceed, its drainage portion 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 project is much more than just paved shoulders and drainage,” Shane said. “It’s bike and pedestrian safety, it’s basically cleaning up the drainage mess in multiple backyards along that whole stretch of Route 88. … These are quality-of-life issues, safety issues, drainage issues, that are significant.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or

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.