South Portland approves $14M bond for public works HQ

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The city Public Works, Transportation and Parks and Recreation departments will have likely a new home off Highland Avenue in 2016 after voters overwhelmingly passed a $14 million construction bond Tuesday, 4,858 to 3,536.

With a 45 percent voter turnout, the so-called Municipal Services Facility bond, projected to cost $20 million in principal and interest, was approved with 57 percent of the vote. The construction cost is estimated at $15.7 million, with grant and reserve funds covering the balance.

“I’m thrilled, I really am, it is a good step forward for this community. Thankfully voters saw need and understood the need,” City Manager Jim Gailey said Wednesday.

He said the project, which has full City Council support, is the most important he has advocated since becoming city manager in 2007.

Construction of the new 60,000-square-foot facility at what is now the city transfer station is not imminent. The first step is to move the transfer station, which could begin in late 2014, according to Gailey.

Site construction is epected to begin in spring 2016, with occupancy anticipated later that year, Gailey said.

The Public Works, Transportation and Parks and Recreation departments now operate on six acres off O’Neil and Pitt streets. Much of the complex is about 80 years old, and two buildings have been condemned.

Once the new municipal services complex is completed, preliminary plans call for single-family residential development on the current site. Initial environmental studies show the presence of asbestos and lead paint, and Gailey last month said a more detailed study that could cost $35,000 will be needed.

He said he is now ready to proceed with the study to establish for the Maine Department of Environemental Protection that the area is suitable for development.

The bond debt will first be noticed on property tax bills in fiscal 2017, according to Finance Director Greg L’Heureux. Because of retiring city debt, the largest impact will be 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed property values that year.

In fiscal 2018, the debt will add 2 cents per $1,000 of assessed property values, but projections through fiscal year 2022 show retiring current debt will more than absorb the bond debt service.

The cumulative effect by fiscal year 2018 is expected to be $22.26 per $1,000 of assessed value.

City staff presented the case for the new facility for more than five months ago, using the municipal website and open houses, and by posting plan renderings at City Hall and other municipal properties.

Incoming City Councilor Maxine Beecher headed the citizen committee supporting the bond, an effort she said was dwarfed by the debate over the Waterfront Protection Ordinance that voters narrowly rejected.

“We tried to figure out ways we could talk one to one with people,” Beecher said. “But there was so much hype, it was just tar sands.”

The committee of seven or eight volunteers spent so little it did not have to file spending reports, according to City Clerk Sue Mooney.

The public works bond was the second on a city ballot in the last eight years. A proposed $4.8 million bond to build a public works facility on Wallace Avenue failed by a 506-472 vote in 2005.

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

Sidebar Elements

The new South Portland Municipal Services Facility, seen in this preliminary sketch, will be built at the current transfer station off Highland Avenue. Voters approved a $14 million construction bond Tuesday for the $15.7 million project.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.