2016-04-29 / Front Page

City council OKs $8.3 million CIP budget

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — A final review of the new school budget may have taken less than six minutes Monday, April 25, but the city council spent much longer on an $8.3 million capital improvements budget for the coming year, in part because of the number of projects on the list.

Funding for the work will come from seven different sources, including $1.7 million in bonds, $1.65 million from a sewer fund reserve and surplus accounts, $1.3 million left unspent from prior capital improvement projects (CIP), $1.28 million from tax increment financing (TIF) district revenues, and $1.03 million from the city’s un-designated surplus account, as well as $834,748 from a host of state and federal grants, and $468,674 held in various reserve accounts.

“None of this is on the ETA rate,” City Manager Jim Gailey said. “Although we do use funding that was derived from the tax rate in previous years, still, nothing comes from the tax rate for (the 2016-2017 fiscal year).”

The CIP budget presented to the city council Monday is part of a long-term plan in which Gailey envisions spending $37 million over the next seven years on city infrastructure needs.

For the coming year, the largest piece of the pie ($5.7 million) will go toward environmental protection, including completion of the Thornton Heights sewer separation project, now in its third year. The public works department will see $1.17 million, while fire and police can look forward to $755,253. City hall can expect $285,175 in funding for its needs, while $222,000 will go toward parks and open spaces and $135,000 will be spent on cultural and recreational facilities.

Public works ($1.17 million)

Although one of the smaller spending items on the agenda ($166,250), sidewalks generated the most talk among the city council.

Gailey said the amount to be spent rebuilding sidewalks “doesn’t even scratch the surface” in terms of work to be done.

“I would like to see more money put into long-range sidewalk improvements,” Councilor Patti Smith said. “I’d like to see substantial dollars put in each year to get us somewhere. I really feel like that benefits everyone, even if you’re not a walker.”

Councilor Maxine Beecher joked that it might be easier to keep up with sidewalk maintenance if, as with sewage and water services, people paid in proportion to their use.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have a sidewalk user fee,” she said.

However, Gailey said sidewalk construction should soon kick into high gear. The city council recently approved the hiring of a new engineer, he said. That person will be shared between public works and the water resources protection department, with one duty to include compiling an inventory of South Portland’s sidewalk system, which totals more than 60 miles. Once that information is in hand, Gailey said, a long-term plan of attack can be made.

“So, I think we’re making good progress, but we’re not making good progress that you can see just yet,” he said.

Public Works Director Doug Howard said the city has a master plan for sidewalks to be built in the Maine Mall area, but a citywide plan was last completed in 1999.

“Things have changed since then,” he said. “We’re looking at this summer trying to get a real good handle on sidewalks in terms of condition assessment.

“I hope by this time next year to be presenting a much more comprehensive sidewalk program that will project out for several years,” Howard said.

Still, Mayor Tom Blake said the real problem with sidewalks in South Portland is that the city insists on using inferior materials.

“I think one of our biggest problems with sidewalks is that we have continuously chosen bituminous (asphalt) over cement, Blake said. “That’s a big change in long-term investment, with a lifespan of 10 to 12 years for asphalt verses 60 to 80 years for concrete.

“Most places I go to in American you very rarely see bituminous sidewalks,” Blake said. “You can get a bigger bank for your buck with concrete.”

Blake also took city administration to task on another pedestrian project.

Although he said he supports construction of a walking bridge over Broadway at the entrance to the Casco Bay Bridge, Blake faulted city hall for failing to adequately sell the project. This year’s CIP budget includes $60,000 to fund a preliminary engineering plan for the Greenbelt Bridge.

“We still haven’t gone back and proven to the public that we have a need to spend $1.5 to $2 million on this,” Blake said. “When we start developing this project, we are going to hear from a lot of people, ‘What a waste of money.’ I still have not seen proof that we need to spend that money.”

Of the other public works projects on the docket for next year, the largest will be $402,050 spent to improve crosswalks, pedestrian and bike access and traffic signals along the Broadway corridor from the Casco Bay Bridge to Cottage Road. Apart from a 25 percent match from the city, most of those dollars will come in previously approved grants from the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System (PACTS).

Other public works projects include:

 Replacing two 1999 International plow trucks, each with more than 6,000 road hours logged on them, at an expected cost of about $360,000.

 Placing $50,000 into a reserve account to buy future city buses.

 Buying four solar-powered crosswalk flashers at a cost of $48,000, augmenting eight such devices South Portland no has spread throughout the city.

 Spending $36,000 to make visual improvements at entryways into the Mill Creek Shopping District, as envisioned by a master plan developed a few years ago.

 Spending $30,000 to create a West End Master Plan for development of the Redbank and Brickhill neighborhoods, similar to the Mill Creek plan.

 Spending $12,000 to develop a citywide bicycle plan to be overseen by South Portland’s “bike-ped” committee.

Public safety ($755,253)

The public safety budget includes the purchase of 30 TASER units, or “stun guns,” for the police department (at a cost of $39,855) and perhaps $20,000 to renovate the kitchen at South Portland’s Central Fire Station, which has not been updated since the station was built in 1950.

Councilor Eben Rose spent several minutes quizzing Police Chief Ed Googins on the TASERS, with particular interest paid on how and when they are used.

“These are only used where there is active physical resistance to us making an arrest,” Googins said. “To gain compliance to be physically arrested – yes. To do anything else – no.”

Asked if outfitting every patrol officer with a TASER for the first time since 2003, when the police department began using the technology, will increase the number of incidents involving their use, Googins said, “I really can’t say.”

“I wouldn’t think it would be a big increase, but it’s worth noting that every offi- cer will have that option on his or her belt,” Googins said. “In my opinion, every officer, in every hour that he or she works, should have a less lethal option available, like a TASER. It’s a very, very effective tool.”

In addition to expanding the inventory so that every officer will have access to a TASER, the new purchase also will help replace some outdated units, which Googins said, “are nearing the end of their useful lives.”

Also new for the police department this year will be body cameras. Googins plans to spend up to $68,328 to buy 24 cameras to be worn by officers in the field. The devices will work with dash cams already installed in cruisers, but will require the purchase of three “transfer stations” to broadcast the images back to servers, for which Googins will need to spend about $24,000 on additional disc storage space.

Other public safety purchases include:

 A new fire truck, at a cost of $580,000, to replace a 1991 E-One Navistar Engine with 28,806 miles on the odometer. The 1991 engine will be traded in or sold off, while the new engine will replace the Squad 4 unit currently housed at the city’s West End Fire Station.

 Spending $29,070 to buy 34 bullet proof vests, replacing current vests that are only good for about five years.

 Contributing $18,000 as South Portland’s annual share of the Regional Crime Lab, shared with police departments in Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough, Falmouth, Westbrook, Windham and Yarmouth, as well as the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office.

General government ($285,175)

The smallest purchase for city hall may be the most interesting. The city plans to spend $10,175 on new voting booths. Curtains on the booths were replaced a few years ago because of mold issues, but that reportedly has done little to mitigate an odor issue.

“It’s unknown how old these booths are,” Gailey said, noting that the newest booths were purchased when the community center on Nelson Road was built in 1979.

“I know how bad the old booths smelled,” Councilor Linda Cohen said, recalling her tenure as South Portland’s town clerk in the 1990s.

Cohen asked about buying the new style of plastic voting cubicles used by many Maine municipalities. However, Town Clerk Emily Carrington said that in addition to costing at $4,000 for the number of booths needed, they may be illegal. State law, she said, requires voting booths have a back to them, in addition to barriers on either side shielding a voters ballot from view.

This year’s outlay will buy 23 voting booths for District 1 (which polls at the Boys and Girls Club), 23 for District 2 (American Legion Hall), and 16 for District 5 (Redbank Community Center).

Other CIP spending for city hall includes:

 Spending $100,000 to buy 302 licenses for Microsoft Office and 424 mailbox licenses for Microsoft Exchange. The city now uses Office 2007 (for which Microsoft support ended 2012) and Exchange 2010 (not supported as of 2015).

 Investing $60,000 in Phase II of the city’s fiber optic network build out, completing the ring from the west end to Memorial Middle School, and from the high school to Mahoney Middle School and city hall, for which the city and school department (which is investing $24,000 from its budget) will get a 5 percent fee one very connection made to business or residence along the line.

 Spending $40,000 to upgrade the city’s Avaya VOIP telephone system, a need Gailey said is evident from the system failure at the police department two months ago.

 Putting $35,000 in the city’s land bank account, which now holds $693,604 for future open space purchases.

 Placing $30,000 into a reserve account for future computer station needs.

Parks and open spaces ($222,000)

Among spending for the city parks department, new purchases include items that will help the city comply with its new pesticide ban, assuming the ordinance proposal passes when taken up by the council next month.

“I’m very happy to see the city moving forward and putting its money where it counts in regards to organic land management,” said Councilor Brad Fox.

CIP budget items for the parks department include:

 Buying a new Groundmaster mower with snowplow attachment and winter tracks, at a cost of about $63,000.

 Spending, $48,000 on a three-fourths ton plow truck to replace a 2004 GMC 1500 with 87,341 miles.

 Spending $32,000 on a ProCore 1298 Aerator attachment to aid in turf management.

 Spending $28,000 on a new top dresser to apply organic compost and other turf management materials.

 Buying a new agricultural tractor, at a projected cost of $26,000, capable of taking the attachments needed for organic pesticide and herbicide application.

 Spending $25,000 to rebuild the Greenbelt Trail past Old Joe’s Pond between Harriet and High streets, an area Gailey said was “not properly compacted” when built 25 years ago when an old rail line to Liberty Shipyards was converted into a walking path.

Cultural and recreational facilities ($135,000)

The big item here, at least to some, is the spending of public money to replace the old hot tub at the community center on Nelson Road. Removed in 2001 after falling into disrepair, the hot tub – or, “municipal therapy spa” as it is officially known – was the subject of a fundraising drive launched four years ago by Mayor Blake. However, private donations were only able to secure about $25,000 of the $90,000 needed to install a new public hot tub.

“A valiant effort took place, but I think they were just on the back end of the economic downturn,” Gailey said.

“I’m glad to see we are finally going to get this off the shelf. It’s been a very long struggle,” Blake said, noting that many people declined to donate, saying purchase of a public hot tub should come out of taxation.

The city will take $77,000 from surplus funds to complete the project, likely in the fall, Gailey said.

Other CIP projects in this category include:

 Buying a new transit van for use by community center employees, at a cost of about $31,000.

 Spending $22,000 on new LED lighting for the municipal pool.

 Making $12,000 in roof repairs to the community center.

Environmental protections ($5.7 million)

Finally, in addition to the $4.34 million being spent to complete the Thornton Heights sewer separation project, designed to keep stormwater runoff from overflowing the sewers and flushing effluent into the Fore River and Casco Bay, other environmental spending includes:

 Spending $1.08 million to upgrade control systems in the city’s wastewater treatment plant, described by Gailey as “the brains of the operation.”

 Contributing $230,000 to a sewer separation project along Ottawa Road in Cape Elizabeth, fed by several South Portland streets.

 Spending $17,999 on a new dump truck body for the vehicle used to clean out catch basins.

 Buying a 4x4 pickup truck, at about $30,433, to replace a rusted out 2009 Chevrolet Sierra with 98,900 miles, used by the water resource protection department.

Although the city council approved in principal all of the CIP spending presented by Gailey and various department heads, it will get a second crack at the purse when each project comes forward during the year for final approval.

“Many of these items will come before the council again. Some of these will come in under bid, some will come in over bid, and some will be removed or changed altogether,” Blake said. “But it’s important to note the number of funding sources we rely on, seven in all, that keep these projects from impacting the tax rate.

“We really do reach outside the box to fund these amenities that make us the great city that we are,” Blake said.

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