Cape Elizabeth schools ask town to borrow $1.75M for maintenance
CAPE ELIZABETH — The School Board on Wednesday sent the Town Council a $1.75 million borrowing request for school maintenance.
The bond would fund roof replacements for all three schools, as well as a new heating recovery unit at the middle school, and a new electrical primary service entrance at the high school.
"We've had three failures in the last five years," School Board Vice Chairman Michael Moore said of the electric cable that services the high school. "It's from 1968. It runs from the middle school, under the tennis courts, underneath the ice and dirt. ... It's old and deteriorated. We need to replace it to avoid having a massive failure."
The Town Charter requires that bonds for capital improvement projects worth more than $1 million be approved by public referendum. However, since the proposal is for five different projects – each one with a price tag of less than $1 million – the bond would not go to voters.
Councilor Katharine Ray questioned whether it is fair to view each of the five projects as distinct, but Town Manager Michael McGovern said that is not an issue.
"Totally different contractors, different bid procedures," he said. "These are multiple projects. We’re just looking at the money being borrowed at the same time.”
The board proposed paying off the bond over a 20- to 25-year period.
A 1994 school bond is due to mature in 2016. That would free up funds to help pay off the new bond, said Michael Moore, who made the presentation.
Ray asked if some of that money should go back to taxpayers.
"I don’t immediately assume when we retire a bond that we can use that money for something else," she said.
The assets being replaced average between 25 and 30 years of age. The new installations would increase efficiency between 15 and 20 percent, and last between 25 and 30 years, the board estimated.
The School Board voted unanimously in November to ask the council to borrow the funds.
The council will review the proposal at length during its finance committee meetings in March and April.
In other business, the council on Wednesday reviewed its budget for fiscal year 2014.
After six months, and despite having already exceeded budgeted amounts for legal services, computer maintenance and more, the town is on pace to finish the year under budget, McGovern said.
He said the trend is due in part to higher-than-expected revenues from excise taxes and building permit fees, and savings on employee health insurance.
McGovern also sketched out a big-picture municipal budget outlook for fiscal year 2015. At this early stage, he projected a 1.64 percent total budget increase, to $9.18 million, not including the School Department budget.
Finally, Council Chairwoman Jessica Sullivan introduced a discussion about council self-evaluation, which was met with mild enthusiasm. She posed questions including, "Do we effectively communicate with the public?" and "Do we take an appropriate amount of time to review issues?"
The council agreed to revisit the concept at a future workshop, perhaps using the recent adoption of the 2013 Greenbelt Plan as a case study.