Yarmouth council to weigh potential tax impact of bonds

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YARMOUTH — Voters may be asked to approve two bond referendums in November that could increase taxes between approximately 8 and 12 percent annually in the first 10 years.

The Town Council on Aug. 16 will hold public hearings and is expected to act on resolutions to consider a two-part voter referendum on borrowing up to $52 million for school improvements and another for construction of a $8.5 million public safety building. 

The council will also hold a public hearing on a proposed tenants’ rights ordinance, and vote to appropriate funds for a new harbormaster building, endorse a concept plan for shared use of the Casco Masonic Lodge, and grant conservation easements on town-owned land to the Royal River Conservation Trust. 

At last week’s Town Council workshop, Town Manager Nat Tupper provided councilors with a rundown of what the impact on taxpayers would be if both borrowing proposals are sent to referendum and pass on Nov. 6.

Tupper said the models and estimates used in the memo are based on “assumptions and projections of future interest rates, which are unknowable.”

He recommended a 30-year maturity, which is estimated to impact property taxes by about 8.2 percent in the peak year and by an average of 7.9 percent in the first 10 years, declining thereafter. 

Alternative 25- or 20-year maturity would save interest costs over the life of the bond issues, but the peak interest and 10-year average would be higher.

At 25 years, the peak-year impact is estimated to be about 11.5 percent, with 10.1 percent average in the first 10 years. A 20-year schedule is estimated to be about 12.8 percent at peak, and 11.7 percent average in the first 10 years.

Under the School Committee’s proposal, the first question would seek approval for renovation and expansion of Yarmouth High School and Yarmouth Elementary School, with minor work at William H. Rowe School and Harrison Middle School, at an estimated cost of $39.8 million.

A follow-up question would be for renovation and expansion of Rowe School and HMS, with capital improvement work throughout the district, at an estimated cost of nearly $12.2 million.

In June, the council endorsed onstruction of a $8.5 million public safety facility on North Road, subject to further discussion and a decision to send the question to voters in November. 

Under the proposal, the Police Department would move to and expanded and renovated North Road fire station. This would open up space in Town Hall for Community Services, which is now in a portable classroom behind Town Hall.

Rental ordinance

A petition in support of the proposed Tenant Housing Rights Ordinance, drafted by Councilor April Humphrey with input from members of the Yarmouth Tenants’ Association, was submitted to the town last month with 831 verified signatures. The Town Charter requires 518 verified signatures to force the Town Council to either adopt an ordinance as petitioned or send it to a voter referendum.

The ordinance would establish a Rental Housing Advisory Committee and require landlords to give tenants 75 days’ notice for rent increases.

Councilors could decide whether to adopt the ordinance as petitioned, schedule the matter for a Nov. 6 referendum vote, or close the public hearing and schedule a time within 30 days to make a decision. 

If enacted by referendum, the ordinance would become effective Nov. 16, 10 days after the vote.

Harbormaster building

Earlier this year, the Harbor and Waterfront Committee presented a proposal to replace the old harbormaster building at the end of Old Shipyard Road near the town landing and boat launch, which is expected to cost $250,000.

Because the Harbor & Waterfront/Shellfish office is “critical to Yarmouth’s economy,” Tupper said, the town has already secured partial funding of $150,000 from the Economic Development Fund.

The council on Aug. 16 will vote whether to appropriate up to $100,000 for the remainder of the projected cost by appropriating funds from tax increment financing or from surplus or limiting the appropriation and have the balance be financed through other means, such as grants, donations or in-kind contributions.

During a council workshop on Aug. 2, Committee Chairman Steve Arnold said the new building will be constructed in the same location, but on a slightly larger footprint. If everything goes as planned, he said he expects to see construction take place in the spring or fall of 2019, so to not interfere with peak boating season.

Masonic Lodge

The council will also vote whether to grant preliminary endorsement of a concept plan regarding the future use of the Casco Masonic Lodge at 20 Mill St. 

The proposal comes as the Yarmouth Community Center Steering Committee has been searching for a space that could include a senior center, food pantry and social services center.

Under this proposal, the Masons would offer the town a 99-year lease of the lodge for $1.

The Masons would retain use of the upstairs for meetings and events, but the town would be responsible for maintenance of the building.

As long as the Masons always have adequate space to meet, the town would be free to sublet to whomever they chose, modify or rebuild the lodge, according to Town Manager Nat Tupper.

The rest of the building would be shared, likely between the town, 317 Main and the YCC Steering Committee, although Tupper noted it might be a while before the committee is ready to enter into a lease agreement with the town. 

Riverfront land

The RRCT and the town are partnering for the purchase about 24 acres of land along the Royal River that is owned by Steve and Greg Dugas. 

The Dugases agreed to sell the riverfront property for $250,000, or $135,000 less than its appraised value.

The parcel is east of the Royal River, bound by the 22-acre Hilda Barker Preserve and the 35-acre Sligo Road Reserve – both owned by the town. By purchasing the land and connecting the two town-owned properties, the trust hopes to create a corridor for trails and protect a half mile of Royal River shoreline.

Together, the Dugas land and the town-owned land would be called the Riverfront Woods Preserve. 

In May, the council unanimously voted to sign an option to acquire the land and indicated a willingness to pay up to $110,000 for the purchase from the town’s land acquisition reserve accounts. 

The trust has raised $50,000 and, with the town, applied for and received a $110,000 grant from the Land for Maine’s Future program. 

On Aug. 16, the council is expected to vote on whether to grant conservation easements to RRCT to assure the land will not be developed in the future.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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