New Public Works HQ tops South Portland council's priorities for 2013
SOUTH PORTLAND — Big goals are fine, Brunswick consultant Craig Freshley told city councilors Monday night, but defining them clearly and defining what is needed to achieve them is even better.
At the end of a two-hour workshop held at the South Portland Community Center, councilors listed 17 goals for 2013, and elaborated on what they would like to see in five years.
Freshley, who heads Good Group Decisions, was asked to lead the workshop by City Manager Jim Gailey. He made it clear he had no agenda but to listen and compile insights.
“I come from a place of neutrality," Freshley said, although he did strive to make councilors turn generalities into more concrete thoughts.
Councilors agreed getting public support for passage of a bond to build a new facility for city public works, parks and recreation and transportation departments is highly critical.
Implementing the newly adopted Comprehensive Plan was also high on the list, along with exploring methods to consolidate municipal and School Department operations.
None of three goals depart greatly from previously expressed desires by councilors or Mayor Tom Blake, but the workshop Monday offered councilors the opportunity to be more expansive about their vision for the city.
Getting the public behind what could be a $20 million or more bond (including interest) for the combined municipal facility near the transfer station on Highland Avenue will be difficult.
It will take lobbying similar to the process behind the renovation and reconstruction of South Portland High School, assessments of how and where costs can be saved, and a majority of residents voting in favor next November.
As they considered how to encourage business development, make city streets more pedestrian and bicyclist friendly and protect city resources, councilors also heard from department heads in the audience.
The consensus among the department heads placed the highest value on building the facility for combined city departments.
"It's their turn," summed up South Portland Fire Chief Kevin Guimond.
Guimond, Police Chief Ed Googins and Director of Parks and Recreation Rick Towle also called on councilors to consider the practical aspects of their goals. Googins and Guimond warned the best intentions, such as fixing timing at traffic signals to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists, could create congestion and impede response to emergencies.
Towle, who was appointed to direct Parks and Recreation last summer, emphasized the need for councilors to listen to department heads for practical advice and insight.
“We're here to advise you, you have some really good people if you reach down through (Gailey),” he said.
In his five-year vision, Councilor Jerry Jalbert said he wants to build up the city tax base but noted the lack of vacant land means redevelopment as opposed to development.
Councilor Patti Smith said the current structure of municipal boards and committees may not be the best way to conduct municipal affairs in the future, and Councilor Al Livingston said a new east-west route across the city is needed to ease traffic problems.