CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council Monday took several steps to cope with the economic downturn, including reducing recycling center hours to four days a week and the transfer of $200,000 to the School Department to help counter a state funding curtailment.
Councilors also set a February public hearing on whether to allow bed and breakfast inns in residential zones.
Councilors quickly and unanimously agreed to cut 10 hours from the recycling center schedule, a measure designed to save the town $14,000 in staff costs. Two hours have been cut from the Wednesday schedule and the center will be closed on Thursdays.
Hours are now 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Their decision to transfer up to $200,000 to the School Department – not to exceed 50 percent of the total amount curtailed from this year’s budget by the Legislature, which will be decided in the coming weeks – went relatively smoothly, although some councilors were opposed to setting the cap at 50 percent.
The amount currently before the Legislature to be curtailed is $421,000, as recommended by Gov. John Baldacci in an effort to balance the state budget.
The 50 percent cap is not expected to be an issue – town and state officials have said that they do not expect the curtailment to decrease – but the clause was included in the council proposal as a way of preserving town capital if the curtailment is reduced.
Transferring $200,000 from the town’s undesignated fund, a “rainy-day fund” used for operating capital when revenue declines, puts that fund below the recommended balance of 8.3 percent of the total operating budget, or one month’s worth of the municipal budget.
Town Manager Michael McGovern said that after assessing the risks involved, he determined that a $200,000 hit to that account would be OK, but that preserving the fund in the event of a decreased curtailment would be ideal.
The School Board accepted the council’s actions at its meeting Tuesday.
The council also voted unanimously to reallocate funds provided through a bond issue last year. The borrowing originally included $1.25 million for Town Center improvements, $660,000 for work on the Spurwink Meeting House, plus funds for fencing at Hannaford Field, greenbelt improvements and several school projects.
Considering the economy, McGovern recommended earlier this month that the town abandon a traffic light project at the intersection of Route 77 and Shore and Scott Dyer roads in favor of funding existing infrastructure.
At Monday’s meeting, he had amended that recommendation and said the project should not be abandoned, but still called for reallocating funding.
One member of the public called the reallocation a “bait and switch,” which McGovern defended by laying out principles the reallocations would follow – the change in funding would be consistent with the original intent of the bond while taking the economic recession into account.
McGovern’s recommendations included:
• Continuing the Spurwink Meeting House project to take advantage of low-cost bids presented by this economy.
• Giving the School Board full flexibility with the remaining $74,000 allocated to its projects.
• Paying the retainage – money earned by the contractor but not paid until the completion of the project – for the Hannaford Field bleacher project.
• Paying obligations for greenbelt projects, not committing to any further greenbelt projects with bond proceeds.
• Spending up to $500,000 for road maintenance and parking lot infrastructure, with Route 77 and some high school lots as priorities.
• Freezing the remaining $300,000 to be used for future capital purposes as approved by the Town Council.
While the Town Center intersection is not mentioned in these recommendations, it could vie for those remaining funds if the council decides to pursue it. The matter is expected to come back to the council by May.
In other business, councilors set a public hearing on proposed ordinance changes that would allow bed and breakfasts in some residential areas.
The current proposal would restrict B&Bs to lots in residential zones which have frontage on Route 77 or Shore Road. The proposal also has density requirements restricting the number of rooms based on lot size, capping rooms at 9, and requires that the inn owner occupy the home as a primary residence.
The public hearing is set for the regular council meeting on Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m.