Falmouth considers new skating rink, outsourcing assessing
FALMOUTH — A short meeting agenda turned into a long night for the Town Council on Monday when two items dominated discussion.
First, a local hockey organization pitched a new ice rink on town-owned land. Then, the public sounded off on a proposal that would outsource the town's assessing department to the county.
Hat Trick Drive could score a third ice skating rink if Casco Bay Hockey Association wins approval for a $1.3 million plan to construct an open-air, pavilion-style rink at Village Park, near the existing Family Ice Center and its outdoor skating pond.
So far, the council appears amenable to the plan.
Casco Bay Hockey is a Portland-based youth hockey organization with more than 800 players and 150 volunteer coaches. During a presentation to the council, President John Veilleux said the association wants to grow its membership by 150 or more players, but it's become increasingly difficult to find "good-quality ice time" that isn't during early hours on weekends or late nights on weekdays.
The seasonal rink would be constructed at the site of a defunct outdoor rink at Village Park and would feature a refrigerated base to maintain the ice through temperature fluctuations – much like the adjacent skating pond – serving skaters from November through April.
Veilleux said the plan hinges on leasing the town-owned property for 40 years, plus planning approval. The association is not seeking town funds for the project and hopes to have it completed by Sept. 15.
The $1.3 million estimate includes funds for a Zamboni ice-treating machine and for heated changing rooms. The rink would be no larger than the existing footprint.
Veilleux said the rink wouldn't be competing with Family Ice Center. Instead, the center's staff might serve as subcontracted employees to maintain the association's facility.
In the warmer months, the pavilion could be rented to the town or the school for sporting events, like lacrosse, Veilleux said.
Most councilors expressed support for the proposal, including Karen Farber who called it an "intriguing idea, a great idea." However, Farber also said she wants to be sure the facility would benefit town residents, particularly students, and she would need to have a "clearer sense" of how the lease would work.
Chairwoman Teresa Pierce reminded the council that Family Ice Center holds a 50-year lease at its town-owned location.
Earlier, Pierce disclosed that her husband coaches for the hockey organization and her children are players. She did not offer to recuse herself from the discussion, nor was she asked to do so by other members of the council.
Town Manager Nathan Poore suggested that the association pursue planning approval for the project while also negotiating a lease with the town.
Skepticism about outsourcing
Six residents and nearly all councilors voiced skepticism during an hour-long discussion of a proposal to outsource the town's assessing services to Cumberland County.
Nonetheless, the council voted 6-0 to authorize Poore to negotiate a contract with the county.
Regardless of the outcome, Falmouth will need a new assessor by the end of the fiscal year because on June 31, long-time assessor Anne Gregory plans to retire.
The town is faced with a choice: Hire a new full-time assessor to replace Gregory, or join with Cumberland and Yarmouth in outsourcing that responsibility to Gary James, director of regional assessing for the county. If hired, James would spend part of his work week in Town Hall.
Poore said consolidation would net the town an annual savings of $56,000, but several residents expressed reservations, including Carol MacNaught, who said outsourcing would erode Falmouth's small-town character.
"I'd hate to lose what we've got," she said.
Resident Willy Audet questioned the utility of outsourcing a "cheap department" that's responsible for billions of dollars in property values. He offered a dire prediction.
"You're going to be known as the council that handed over $2.3 billion (in property assessments) to an experiment," he said.
Most councilors were cool on the subject, including Russ Anderson who said he's seen failed efforts to consolidate or outsource in the business community. Outsourcing might work for a "peripheral" department, like information technology, he said, but it should be avoided in other cases.
"Do it with something that is not a core function," Anderson said.
Poore said he would present the council with results of the contract negotiations at its March 10 meeting.
Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.