Falmouth slashes permit fee for hockey rink

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FALMOUTH — Town councilors may have set a precedent on Monday when they voted to reduce a building permit fee owed for the outdoor hockey rink under construction on Hat Trick Drive.

The council also scheduled a Nov. 10 meeting to consider an order for land to be condemned for sewer improvements.

Casco Bay Hockey originally owed the town a permit fee of about $10,000, but councilors reduced this by about 40 percent, meaning the town will receive $6,000 instead. The vote was 5-2, with Council Chairwoman Karen Farber and Councilor Charlie McBrady opposed.

Town Manager Nathan Poore said he received a letter from the organization calling the $10,000 fee “unexpected” given that Casco Bay Hockey is a nonprofit. The letter went on to read, “The concept of us paying anything other than a modest building permit fee was not discussed or even considered among any of us,” and suggested the issue should have been previously negotiated.

Poore said $10,000 was “the right fee,” and that the money pays for staffing and overhead costs. He predicted the reduced fee of $6,000 would cover the direct costs of staff time, but not the overhead.

“I appreciate staff position on this, but unique projects merit different treatment,” said Councilor Sean Mahoney.

The organization’s nonprofit status and the potential public benefit of the rink allowed for the fee waiver, councilors said. But some felt the decision was a risky one. 

“I am uncertain because it’s really important to note we don’t charge fees and make a bundle,” said Farber. “We’re not filling holes in the general fund with fees.”

“A vote in favor is setting a precedent,” McBrady said. “Any reduction is taking away from things we need in the town.”

Councilor Russell Anderson voiced the most support for the agreement, saying a precedent was “appropriate.”

“I am perfectly comfortable setting a precedent saying for nonprofits we don’t charge overhead fees,” Anderson said.

Sewer site

In other business, the council unanimously agreed to schedule a Nov. 10 meeting to consider an order allowing condemnation of land for public sewer improvement. The town had previously determined that an aging pump station, off Route 88 near Mill Creek, needs to be replaced.

But first the town must obtain clear rights to land on which station sits, according to Poore. An error was made in siting the station during the 1980s, he said, and a portion of the land is now controlled by the Falmouth Land Trust and the Nature Conservancy.

The land also carries conservation easements, and rather than revert the easements, Poore said condemning the land was the way to go.

The Land Trust and the Nature Conservancy have agreed to condemnation of the land in return for a $3,000 payment from the town. The sum will come from its wastewater enterprise fund.

The fund is comprised of the sewer use fees paid by businesses and residents in Falmouth. The fund will also pay for the pump station replacement, which could cost up to $4 million.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.