2013-04-05 / Front Page

PW garage goes to voters

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — The South Portland City Council informally agreed to approve a November voter referendum on a slightly stripped-down version of a new public works, parks and transportation building.

City staff and engineers presented a revised, less-costly proposal to the council at a special workshop on Monday, April 1 for what they are calling a “community services facility.” The new proposal trims the taxpayer-funded price of the new building from $19 million to $14 million by eliminating an area of 23,500 square feet originally intended to provide cover for city vehicles to protect them from snow and rain.

Under the new proposal, that area will provide extra outdoor parking space for municipal vehicles, but Dan Riley of Sebago Technics, the engineering firm that designed the facility plan, said the city could still use the space to add to the facility sometime in the future.

South Portland Finance Director Greg L’Heureux presented the financial plan for the new building, which would delay payments on the principal until 2018 to limit the impact on city taxpayers.

“We’re not rushing into this project and borrowing immediately. We’re going to hold off on the borrowing as long as we can,” L’Heureux said.

The reason for the delay in payments, L’Heureux explained, is the significant debt coming off South Portland’s books in 2018 from expiring retirement obligations and road paving bonds that would lower the city’s tax rates by 23 cents per $1,000 of valuation. By scheduling the public works payments with the retiring debt, the city will limit the impact of the project on taxpayers to a total of a seven-cent increase per $1,000 of valuation, or $13.65 on the average property tax bill.

If voters approve the bond in November, the proposed timeline would allow the city to accept bids for more than a year before construction would be scheduled to start in 2015. The employees from the three departments would then move to the new building at the end of 2016.

The new facility would be accessible through a service road off Highland Avenue, centrally located in the city between South Portland High School and the Wainwright Field Athletic Complex.

Councilors were not ready to send the proposal to voters when they last discussed the issue on Feb. 25, asking instead for more information on future savings the new building would create and the cost breakdown to taxpayers. When city staff returned with more detailed information, the council gave its approval, although some councilors still expressed reservations about the project.

“Is it really necessary to go this November given the timeline we’re setting up?” asked Councilor Melissa Linscott, referencing the 2016 move-in date.

“Can we continue to work on it, have a stronger educational piece, and have a better likelihood of getting it passed? It feels a little rushed to me.”

But Linscott ultimately agreed with the majority of councilors that the needs of the employees and the safety threat the inadequate building on O’Neil Street poses make immediate action necessary.

City Manager Jim Gailey essentially gave the council an ultimatum to decide whether to schedule a November vote at Monday’s workshop, because city staff need time to set up a marketing campaign to inform voters about the issue before the November election.

“I really would encourage folks to think about taking a leap of faith and going to the voters. We might lose some, we might win some, but we won’t know until we try,” said Councilor Patti Smith.

Return to top