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Cape Elizabeth officials like $35M, long-range improvement plan

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Cape Elizabeth officials like $35M, long-range improvement plan

CAPE ELIZABETH — A proposed 10-year, $35 million capital improvement plan won broad support during a joint workshop of the Town Council and School Board on Wednesday, particularly from the town manager.

"There's no community in New England that has a report like this," manager Michael McGovern said.

The non-binding plan, which was developed by the finance chairmen from the council and the School Board, calls for a yearly average of $3.5 million in capital investments.

The plan was designed to aid the town in long-range planning, and to show residents the tax impacts of scheduled maintenance and upgrades to Cape's 426,000 square feet of facilities, 120 vehicles, 63 miles of roads and more.

The plan also includes a $5 million placeholder for any potential construction or renovation of Thomas Memorial Library.

The effort was partly inspired by last year's failed $6 million bond proposal to rebuild the library, McGovern said before the meeting. In the run-up to last November's election, many residents expressed concern that future spending "wasn't being looked at comprehensively" when the town proposed the construction project. 

"The library was clearly a contributing factor," McGovern said. "If we end up doing something with the library, looking at upcoming debt retirements makes sense."

Councilor Frank Governali and School Board member Michael Moore took turns explaining the plan, which is available on the town's website, during an hour-long presentation.

Moore acknowledged that an annual average of $3.5 million in capital improvements might appear steep, but he offered a bleaker option.

"How do we get comfortable with the overall (capital investment) spending rate?" Moore said. "Deferring investments now will shorten the usable lives of Cape's assets and actually require greater investments in the future."

Governali said the tax impact of the plan would be nominal, with an average increase of about a half percent, or about $115 a year for owners of homes valued at $315,000.

The town presents a new capital improvement plan every year during the budget cycle, but this is the first to include the School Department's projected costs, McGovern said.

The schools have been doing their own capital improvement plan intermittently, "but there has never been an effort to combine and sync them to the degree that Frank Governali and Michael Moore have done," McGovern said.

Councilor Kathy Ray expressed reservations about the 10-year plan, suggesting that it might usurp the council's authority in the annual budget process, but other councilors and School Board members assured her that was not the case. Rather, the 10-year plan is a non-binding means of projecting future costs and justifying them to voters, they said.

Council Chairman Jim Walsh said the plan would be valuable for "convincing the community that we've done the due diligence that is necessary" when requesting bonds.

Governali suggested the plan would empower the council's authority in decision-making.

"It informs you to ask good questions," he said.

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.