South Portland council poised to fast-track capital improvements

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council is poised to fast-track this year’s Capital Improvement Plan so workers can take advantage of the early construction season.

Although the council typically approves the CIP in June, City Manager Jim Gailey asked to bump up that vote to Wednesday, April 21.

Gailey presented a $4.3 million CIP to the council at a workshop on Monday night. His proposal includes vehicle and equipment purchases, paving and other infrastructure projects.

Traditionally, the CIP has been funded through budget surpluses, but Gailey said economic conditions over the last few years have not properly funded the program.

While $800,000 in surplus funding is included, so is more than $2 million in sewer surplus, $690,000 in remaining CIP balances and $330,000 in general fund reserves.  

Most of the budget is allocated for environmental protection and public works/transportation, which are slated to receive more that $2.1 million and $1.4 million, respectively.

Public safety is allocated $400,000, general government $210,000, parks and open space $155,000, and $10,000 for cultural and recreational facilities.

While generally supportive of the CIP, Councilors Tom Blake and Patti Smith were concerned about plans to buy new furnaces for City Hall and the public works facility, and new windows for Central Fire Station. 

Blake and Smith said the council will soon be asked to consider hiring an outside consultant to conduct a comprehensive energy audit, which would be paid for by savings achieved through energy-efficient upgrades. 

“I want to make sure we don’t jump the gun and beat the experts,” Blake said.

Councilors ultimately decided to leave the proposals in the plan when Gailey said no purchases would be made without first checking with consultants, who have already audited the school buildings.

Gailey also proposed a $600,00 paving program, which the council seemed interested in increasing to $725,000 by adding sewer reserve and tax increment financing funds, for this coming season.

Gailey said he would like to begin paving in May because more than 150 streets are in critical condition. To get caught up on street maintenance, he also floated the idea of eventually putting a $3 million road bond to voters. 

“We’re losing the edge on our roads and it’s showing,” Gailey said.

Mayor Tom Coward agreed, calling the CIP a good down payment. “The more this (allocation) goes up, the happier I am,” he said.

The Mill Creek transit hub, which would consolidate all bus stops in Knightville-Mill Creek into a heated and covered facility behind City Hall with bike racks, benches and maps, was allocated $50,000.

The CIP also includes $93,000 for new recycling bins, since those annual costs were removed from the operating budget.

The proposed CIP is part of a seven-year plan, which calls for $8.6 million in spending in 2012 and $7.6 million in 2013.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

Sidebar Elements


Proposal would boost
city’s land bank funding

SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council will consider a policy change next month that would increase funding for the city’s land bank, which may be used to buy or maintain open spaces.

The current funding mechanism feeds 5 percent from the sale of city-owned lands into the land bank, which has been tapped in recent years to preserve a portion of Sawyer Marsh and a parcel of land off Berwick Street.

Councilors Tom Blake and Patti Smith would like to increase the land bank funding by directing 60 percent of sales of undeveloped city land and 30 percent from sales of developed land into the account, as well as including an annual allocation of $35,000 from the Capital Improvement Plan. 

Smith, who serves on the Open Space Committee, said more funding is needed so the city can aggressively pursue valued open space before it becomes developed.

She would like to avoid the unintended consequences of the previous open space plan, which Gailey said became a development guide for area developers when councilors voted down a $3 million land bond.

“When you lose (open space), you can never get it back,” Smith said. “Funding is a big part of that open space plan.”

Mayor Tom Coward supported the proposal, not only because it funds the land bank, but it also allows the council to override the funding at anytime.

“That’s one of the beauties of this,” Coward said. “It preserves flexibility.”

Several residents spoke in support of the proposal, including Matt Green, who successfully lobbied the city to use the land bank to round out private fundraising to preserve a parcel on Berwick Street.

“It’s definitely worthwhile,” Green said. “I see the benefits of the city purchase every time I look out my window.”

Councilor Linda Boudreau, however, spoke against the plan after listing her previous support for open spaces, including the acquisition of Bug Light Park and working to establish the 5 percent funding mechanism.

Boudreau said the proposal includes too large an increase in funding, especially in uncertain economic times.

In addition criticizing increased percentage, Boudreau said securing an annual CIP allocation would be unfair to other programs that must compete for funding.

“I do think that what’s before us is more than I can support,” said Boudreau, proposing a more modest increase to 10 percent of land sales. “When you’re building a CIP, I think the $35,000 needs to compete with other needs.”

Councilor Maxine Beecher agreed and also expressed concern about the political consequences of the proposal, noting the council received criticism when it adopted the 5 percent funding mechanism.

“In the city, there were a lot of needs then and there were people who though we were off the wall,” Beecher said.

Blake said funding the account through land sales is more responsible that folding money into the general fund to pay for operating expenses.

“Selling your backyard to pay your bills is wrong,” Blake said. “A big question on everyone’s mind is open space. It’s a trend people want and bottom line is we don’t fund it.”

— Randy Billings

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