Scarborough may use D.C. firm to set livability goals

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SCARBOROUGH — In an effort to more clearly chart the town’s strengths and weaknesses, Town Manager Tom Hall is recommending use of a Washington, D.C.-based consulting company.

The firm would track Scarborough’s “sustainability” and propose avenues of improvement.

“More importantly, it identifies gaps,” Hall said at the Jan. 6 Town Council meeting.

While the word “sustainability” often invokes renewable energy, the framework of the system is more far-reaching, Hall said Thursday morning.

“I think, in this context, the term transcends that,” he said – more holistic, and suggesting a livable, affordable community.

The company, Star Communities, defines a sustainable community as having a “healthy environment, a strong economy and the well-being of the people living in the community.”

The intention in Scarborough would be to examine all issues at once to better identify gaps and determine where there’s room for improvement.

The company’s rating system includes an analysis of the economic, social and environmental climate, with focus on climate and energy, economy and jobs, health and safety, and natural systems. 

Hall said he’s not as interested in determining Scarborough’s score as he is in getting a comprehensive set of benchmarks that can be utilized moving forward.

“With our revolving door of elected officials, it’s hard to have a sustained, long-range focus,” Hall said. “(The Comprehensive Plan is) the closest thing we have to it.”

“The value of something like this,” he said, is that it would prompt the community to dig deeper and to “set a baseline and establish some metrics we could work towards.”

Hall said he hopes to bring a formal proposal before the council in the next six to eight weeks.

Collecting the necessary data would “clearly be a massive undertaking,” he told councilors Wednesday. 

The cost of the program varies from $500 to $7,500, depending on the level of certification sought. Hall said Scarborough would likely opt for one of the lower-end approaches.

Benchmarking has been a theme among elected officials and town staff in the last year, Hall said. But coming up with specific benchmarks “is a much more difficult endeavor,” he said. 

In the next 18 to 24 months, Hall said, the town will have to update its Comprehensive Plan, and the Star Communities data should help lay the groundwork.

The potential to use this framework to create a long-term vision is very appealing, Hall said. 

“All of it may not be applicable to us, but I think it might be a very important and useful exercise to work through,” he said. 

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or aacquisto@theforecaster.net. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

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South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.