Falmouth council weighs new options for town buildings, land

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FALMOUTH — Staff presented the Town Council with 10 different options for what to do with town-owned buildings and land Monday night.

They included measures that would increase annual taxes by $4.46 per $100,000 of assessed value to options that would raise those taxes by nearly $28 per year.

The presentation revealed new assessments of town properties by three commercial real estate brokers, some lower than previously released figures, some higher. It also included an estimate by Oak Point Associates of $1.75 million in soft costs, such as architectural and engineering fees, insurance, and moving expenses for the project.

The estimated sales value of Town Hall was reduced from $1.25 million to $750,000 and the Pleasant Hill Fire Station sale price was reduced by $40,000. The real estate brokers estimated $250,000 more for the sale price of the five acres of land behind the Plummer-Motz school.

The presentation sparked a nearly three-hour discussion of a possible bond referendum on the November ballot.

The most expensive option presented was the Facilities Committee’s original recommendation, which would move the Town Hall and Falmouth Memorial Library to the Plummer and Lunt school buildings, respectively, create a recreation center in the Motz wing, and sell five acres of land for private development. It also includes selling the existing Town Hall and library for private development.

This option would require a $5 million bond, which would need voter approval.

The least expensive option includes selling the entire Plummer-Motz and Lunt property for private development, expanding the library in its current space, and doing $2 million worth of renovations to Town Hall. There would be no recreation center in this option.

“The irony of what I observe is the committee’s recommendation is the most expensive,” Councilor Will Armitage said. “There are so many variables in this. There’s got to be a better way.”

The other options staff presented were somewhere in the middle of these two options, and included utilizing between $500,000 and $1 million from undesignated funds.

“I’ll be the first to admit, if you use different numbers, you come up with a different analysis, but we think this (analysis) is very reasonable,” Director of Long Range Planning Theo Holtwijk said.

Councilor Cathy Breen, who is the liaison to the Facilities Committee, said this has been a long discussion and that, in the end, doing nothing is not an option. She cited a neglected school building in Brunswick that cost the town $225,000 per year to heat and maintain.

“Neglected capital needs lead to crisis, crisis leads to rushing, rushing leads to short-sighted decisions, which cost more,” Breen said.

She said she supports the committee’s proposal, but would be willing to compromise by lowering the costs of the renovations by cutting back the scale and scope of the project.

Option 4D would do that, by borrowing $2 million for a projected renovation cost of $8 million.

This option would include moving the library to Lunt School, but not include the additions proposed in the initial committee presentation.

It would also include moving the Town Hall and creating a community center, both at lower cost due to scaled-back renovations.

Meanwhile, a community group called Falmouth Citizens for Sound Choices, has been collecting signatures to ask the council to delay sending this issue to voters in November.

Brian Preney, who has been collecting signatures for the group, said he takes issue with “the speed at which the project is flying forward, the ever-increasing numbers, the numbers put forward that are ‘fuzzy,'” borrowing against the undesignated fund balance, and anticipated costs associated with the new elementary school.

The group has collected more than 350 signatures and hosts an online forum on Google Groups.

Residents will have the opportunity to speak on this issue during a public hearing at the next council meeting on Aug. 23. The council will then have to decide on potential referendum language and vote at its Sept. 13 meeting to make the deadline for a November ballot question.

Breen created a thick binder of materials on the issue and has left copies at Town Hall and library for people to review. She also provided copies to each of the councilors to help with what she called “a loss of institutional memory.”

“It’s been two years and we’ve had plenty of public input,” Breen said. “I think the community deserves the opportunity to invest in this. If they decide not to, the referendum fails. Then whatever (private) development scenario can come forward.”

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net

Sidebar Elements

Resident files claim against Falmouth councilors

FALMOUTH — A Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy served the Town Council Monday night with a small claims court claim on behalf of frequent council critic Michael Doyle.

Doyle wants the councilors to reimburse the town $500 for money spent on police details at council meetings. He also wants the council to pay him $6,000 for allegedly implying he broke the law.

Police officers were assigned to council meetings after Doyle sent a letter to Councilor Bonny Rodden threatening to bring his “considerable skill set and intellect to bear” against her and suggesting she discuss her decision to run for re-election with her family because “they will have to live with it as much as you do.”

While the council initially passed a resolution baring name-calling and personal attacks during the public forum portion of council meetings, it stopped short of amending council rules to specifically prohibit that type of language after receiving a strongly worded letter from the Maine Civil Liberties Union urging the council to protect free speech.

Doyle is also asking the councilors to pay the $6,000 maximum fine allowed in small claims court for allegedly “using the police chief to imply criminal conduct where there was none,” according to the paperwork served.

“This lawsuit is really based on abuse of authority,” Doyle later said.

He claims the councilors implied he was guilty of threatening when they asked Police Chief Edward Tolan to explain the laws protecting people from threats and how a protection-from-abuse order could be obtained.

Doyle’s name was not specifically mentioned during the chief’s presentation.

None of the councilors obtained a protective order against Doyle, nor were any charges ever filed against him.

“Mr. Doyle’s behavior continues to cost the town a great deal in staff time and legal fees,” council Chairman Tony Payne said. “Based on his stated objectives of trying to save taxpayer funds, he appears to be working diligently against the interests of efficiency and affordability of town government, which is regrettable.”

The court must set a hearing date for the case. If either side fails to appear in court, a default judgment may be entered or the case may be dismissed.

— Emily Parkhurst