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SCARBOROUGH — Voters may be asked to authorize borrowing up to $1 million to fund the purchase of conservation land.
The Town Council appeared enthusiastic at the first reading last week of an order that would allow the town to place a referendum on the November ballot. If it passes, the town is all but guaranteed a 20 percent match of up to $200,000 through the Maine Community Foundation as a clearinghouse for an anonymous donor, Town Manager Tom Hall said.
While the donor has earmarked the money for preserving conservation land, the town can direct how the money is used, Hall said.
The council met with members of the Scarborough Conservation Land Trust during an executive session to discuss four or five significant properties, he said. At least two would be multi-million dollar acquisitions. Although Hall said there are no active negotiations taking place, the town and trust want to be prepared if the funding becomes available.
Scarborough already has more than $2.4 million available to purchase conservation properties, money that was approved by residents on two separate occasions – $1.5 million in 2000 and $2.5 million in 2003.
Since then, the town used a portion of the money, in conjunction with state and private funding, to purchase three properties:
• The Meserve property in 2004, now known as Broadturn Farm, with the town’s share being nearly $1.2 million.
• Seventy-seven Broadturn Road in 2007, with the town’s share at $100,000.
• And last spring, the Cora Gervais property that abuts the Scarborough Marsh for $250,000.
“We’re sitting on $2.4 million and have been good stewards of that money,” Hall said. “Real estate is time sensitive; you need to have the money in hand. And we’ve been successful leveraging state and private monies.”
The council will hold a public hearing and second reading on the order at its next meeting, Wednesday, Sept. 2, at 7 p.m. If the question appears on the ballot and passes in November, bonds would be issued only at the time funding is needed for a specific purchase. Most likely, the bonds would be issued in smaller amounts over a period of years as opportunities arise to purchase property.
To help with the evaluation process of potentially desirable properties, the council could create an evaluation board. By appropriating the additional $1 million, the town could pursue matching funds from Land for Maine’s Future program and the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund.
“It’s a great opportunity to leverage local dollars,” Hall said. “Right out of the gate to get a 20 percent match makes sense to me at the most basic level. Now is the time to be buying land. … Put it to the voters and let them decide if it’s an important enough priority.”
Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.