Scarborough seeks new borrowing, 'good neighbors'

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SCARBOROUGH — Town councilors defended how Scarborough budgets, borrows and spends its money Wednesday night.

Councilors also unanimously approved the first reading of a proposed “Good Neighbor” ordinance, with Councilors Peter Hays and Katherine St. Clair absent. Part of the ordinance would mandate how bright outdoor lights can be at night and also addressed noise issues.

During the April 19 meeting, the council also passed a first reading of the municipal and school capital improvement projects.

The Finance Committee, composed of three councilors, was scheduled to review the CIP plan and make recommendations April 20. Any recommendations from the meeting will be reviewed by the full council at its May 3 meeting, when the second reading of the ordinance and CIP plan are scheduled.

The total amount of a CIP bond, per a memo to Town Manager Thomas Hall from Finance Director Ruth Porter, is $4.2 million. Some projects will be paid for with existing funds. The amount to be bonded is $4 million, Porter noted, and include town and school requests.

On the municipal side, big-ticket items and previously authorized spending add up to $2.9 million. Items sought range from $169,000 for a plow truck to $70,000 for Gorham Road reconstruction final plans. A further review of a fuel station replacement for more than $687,000 was scheduled for the April 20 meeting, because the request exceeds the $400,000 threshold requiring a public vote.

Hall said he will research options for the project that may not require a public hearing.

On the school side, capital projects include nearly $311,000 for school bus replacement, and $237,500 for roof restoration. Present and prior capital budget authorizations total $1.2 million.

Bay Street resident Susan Hamill questioned the town’s indebtedness. 

“We issue bonds to pay for schools and capital improvement,” she said. “You can say that we can afford this, but by credit industry standards we’re too high.”

Projects such as a new public safety complex remain, Hamill said. She requested the council enact an immediate freeze on small capital projects.

Chairman Shawn Babine quickly recalled an earlier public vote that defeated a new public safety center.

Councilor William Donovan explained why the town can afford to finance its capital improvement projects.

“Our credit rating is very high, interest rates are exceedingly low,” Donovan said, “so it’s been a very appropriate time to borrow.”

Councilor Chris Caiazzo said the town’s financial well-being is intact, based on bond experts’ review. 

“If this town wants facilities and wants services, then we’ve got to play for them one way or another,” he said.

“In terms of being irresponsible on how we manage our debts, I take exception to that,” Caiazzo added.

Good Neighbor

The Good Neighbor ordinance may solve neighborhood disputes before they happen, despite concerns aired by Benjamin Howard of 7 Windsor Pines.

“We’re just writing rules that are common sense,” Howard said. “Why can’t my neighbor just come over and speak to me?

The ordinance prescribes a shield for outdoor lights, so lights don’t shine directly into another person’s home. Infractions would be answered with notices of violation, but there would be no financial penalties.

Councilor Katy Foley referred to a situation where a neighbor-to-neighbor problem left one person nowhere to turn.

“So I hope if we pass this, that nobody ever gets a violation because we’re all good neighbors,” Foley said. 

Donovan, who brought up the ordinance review at Wednesday night’s meeting, said having an ordinance in place would prevent problems.

“I think it does help people to know that it’s on the books,” Donovan said. “It might help solve some of these neighborly discussions.”

In other council news, April 26 is the date set for a public hearing on the budget. The 7 p.m. meeting will take place at the Wentworth School.

Council Chairman Shawn Babine encouraged residents to submit questions via the town’s website ahead of the meeting.

Lisa D. Connell can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or Follow Lisa on Twitter: @connell_ld.

Susan Hamill tells Scarborough town councilors on April 19 that the town is carrying too much debt.