Freeport capital improvement plan remains intact

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FREEPORT — After discussing several substantial amendments, the Town Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to adopt its five-year capital budget largely as planned.

Councilor Andy Wellen made the dissenting vote after raising objections to budgeting for the Freeport Economic Development Corporation, which is slated to receive $95,000 in each of the next five years.

“I wanted to make a statement that I still have a big problem with funding the Freeport Economic Development Corp because it’s a private corporation that gets our taxpayer money to direct economic policy for the town,” Wellen said. “I think, like in most towns, it’s better for that to happen within the town so economic policy decisions take into account both residential and business interests.”

Wellen declined to offer a related amendment, knowing it would fail, but he called for the FEDC to be made public and have its budget reduced to $50,000 annually.

He also took issue with a $300,000 expansion of the Freeport Community Library’s children’s room slated for fiscal year 2019. Wellen offered an amendment to reduce that amount $100,000, but it was defeated 6-1.

The capital program, which includes a budget of $2.4 million for fiscal year 2015, spans a variety of town services, from the fire department, to waste and recycling.

Repairs to Wardtown Road (Route 125) continued to be a hot-button issue.

The council ultimately agreed, as planned, to fund a $1 million reconstruction of the road (half of which will come from a municipal partnership initiative grant through the Department of Transportation), as well as $300,000 to pave 3-foot shoulders on each side of the street.

Town Engineer Albert Presgraves tried to assuage residents’ concerns that the shoulder-paving project would impact their property and landscaping.

“For the most part, that road has 3-foot gravel shoulders now, and all they’re going to do is pave that existing shoulder,” he said. Presgraves said that in areas of the road where the gravel shoulder is smaller than 3 feet, the paved shoulder would be smaller as well.

Speaking on behalf of the Active Living Task Force, Councilor Kristina Egan expressed disappointment that a 4-foot shoulder — considered to be much safer for pedestrians and bicyclists — was not being considered.

She declined to offer an amendment, saying afterwards, “The will of the council was to stay with 3 feet.”

In other road repairs, a $400,000 renovation of Litchfield Road, scheduled for fiscal year 2017, was moved up to 2016.

“I did drive that road and it’s got craters all over it,” Councilor Sarah Tracy said. “I’m comfortable moving it up from a substantive point of view.”

A $16,000 Freeport Historical Society project involving archiving and the Harraseeket district was also discussed at length but survived the chopping block.

Other major expenditures approved for the coming year include $70,000 for two new police cars, $186,000 for a new ambulance, $45,000 for a new plow for public works, and $53,000 for town-wide computer upgrades.

The town’s upcoming fiscal year begins July 1.

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or btwist@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter:@brendantwist.

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