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Revised public works headquarters draws South Portland council support

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Revised public works headquarters draws South Portland council support

SOUTH PORTLAND — Although the scope is decreasing, council support is growing for a $14 million bond question to build a new city Public Works and Transportation facility off Highland Avenue.

After 90 minutes of discussion and public comment at a council workshop Monday night, councilors unanimously signalled a consensus for asking voters to approve a construction bond in November.

Formal votes are not allowed at council workshops. Any bond proposal will require a public hearing and formal council vote at another meeting.

The special workshop to discuss plans and financing was held at the request of City Manager Jim Gailey, who said efforts to gain public approval for the construction project must begin soon.

Monday's revised plans resemble the a second proposal of phased construction presented by city Finance Director Greg L'Heureux and Sebago Technics Engineer Dan Riley at a Feb. 25 council workshop. A key difference is there is no commitment on constructing 50,000 square feet of indoor parking space for city vehicles.

The new plan retains 23,500 square feet of indoor storage for some vehicles; 4,600 square feet of covered, outdoor storage space; a 24,000-square-foot service area with seven bays for city vehicles, and 9,300 square feet of office space for the Public Works, Transportation and Parks and Recreation departments.

Exterior structures include a salt shed, fueling station and vehicle wash bay, and 4,000-square-foot storage barn.

L'Heureux said $2 million of  grants and reserve funds could be used to defray the bond amount. He estimates a $14 million, 20-year bond with interest at 4 percent would have a $20 million total cost.

He also proposed waiting until July 2016 to issue the bond to limit the effects on the property tax rate. L'Heureux projected the bond will add 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to the property tax rate in 2017 and 2 cents in 2018. With other bond debt retiring later this decade, L'Heureux estimates the property tax rate will decrease by 4 cents in 2019.

No matter the timing or price, facility plans drew criticism from Colchester Drive resident Albert DiMillo Jr., who said improvements could be done for only $3 million at the existing six-acre O'Neil Street Public Works and Transportation facility.

Gailey disputed DiMillo's office space data. He said rebuilding at O'Neil Street is impractical because of space, noise complaints from neighbors and an inconvenient site location.

The new facility would offer better quarters for Public Works crews on work breaks from clearing winter storms, and updated restrooms, a kitchen and break room, Gailey added.

Waiting three years to sell bonds prompted Councilor Melissa Linscott to ask why a bond vote was needed this year. Gailey said the preliminary tasks, such as shifting the existing transfer station and the engineering work needed to firm up bid proposals would occur before bonds are sold.

"It's not like we are not going to be doing anything at all,"  he said.

The last councilor swayed was newly elected Michael Pock, who was ambivalent about the need for the project during his election campaign last month. He suggested the South Portland Armory as a possible site for vehicle maintenance, but liked the new option for a new facility.

“It's got to be done," Pock said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.