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Cape officials adopt new planning strategy after library defeat

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Cape officials adopt new planning strategy after library defeat

CAPE ELIZABETH — Prompted by the failure of the Thomas Memorial Library bond referendum last November, the Town Council and School Board have developed a plan to coordinate future spending for large projects.

At joint workshop Wednesday night, the two panels charged a joint committee to organize a holistic view of the town's needs after both bodies have developed their priorities separately.

After both boards determine their plans, Councilor Frank Governali and School Board member Michael Moore, the respective finance chairs, will meet with town staff in the joint committee to share planning priorities. The results of that meeting will likely be brought to another joint workshop to evaluate how future bonds would be constructed and put to voters.

"The goal is to create a unified vision, or view, for what capital improvements are needed for the town," Governali said at the meeting. "This is so we have a single sheet of paper, for lack of a better term, that reflects what the outlook is. I think it would be beneficial to the community."

Councilors and board members debated whether forming a joint committee is the best approach. Some noted the different responsibilities of the two bodies and wanted to maintain the separate goals without encroaching on the other. But they ultimately agreed it is important to coordinate spending projects and become more transparent through a central plan.

"We need to share information about major projects," Superintendent of Schools Meredith Nadeau said. "Whether or not this committee takes place, we have to work together."

The joint committee is necessary, Town Manager Michael McGovern said, because it would be too difficult for both groups to coordinate all at once.

"If you're going to have a meeting, you need to have the staff get the committee work done," he said. "You need some sort of screening work to be done. You just can't have 14 people meet in a room and discuss this. It's not going to work."

Both groups acknowledged that there may be competing interests when the priorities are brought together, but said information needs to be shared to better organize spending and borrowing.

"Hopefully it meshes nicely, but sometimes it won't," Governali said. "That effort to coordinate timing or overall planning hasn't been done in the past in a public forum with a lot of public view of what's going on."

Council Chairman Jim Walsh said the council "wrestled" with how to approach the library and were ultimately handed a decision by voters that rejected their proposal. Understanding what the long-term needs are from the board's perspective will help the council better prepare for future projects, he said.

"It sounds like we want to communicate and we want to share," Walsh said. "If we can come out a year from now knowing what our services require, I think our citizens will feel better... It's something that's been missing."

Use of town facilities

In other business, Greg Marles, director of facilities, presented a committee report about changes to the rules and procedures for the public's use of town buildings.

The committee identified spaces available for public use in town, established a new fee structure, developed priority-use guidelines and different methods of staffing.

Some of the biggest changes to how facilities will be used in town is the establishment of a new electronic scheduling system and simplifying the fee categories.

Current scheduling for town facilities requires groups that want to use a certain building to fill out a paper form, which is then transferred into a spreadsheet by an administrative assistant, Marles said.

The new system, which will be available in February, will allow users to go online and schedule when they want to use a particular building, such as the Cape Elizabeth High School gym.

The new system will also allow the town to track use of particular buildings with data, something that has only been done anecdotally, according to Councilor Jessica Sullivan, who worked on the committee.

The fee structure has also been simplified to include to major groups, residents and nonresidents, and to allow fees to be waived for some nonprofits groups, such as booster clubs.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.