Board crafts Town Hall funding plan

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Bridgton Selectmen reversed themselves Tuesday by removing a warrant item that asked voters if they wanted to stabilize, sell or demolish Town Hall.

The warrant item was added following comments made April 8 by Town Manager, Mitch Berkowitz, that questioned using Community Development Block Grant funds to fix the building. He said the old building costs too much to heat, and taxpayers may be better served by building a new facility to meet recreational needs. Several residents in the audience agreed with him, one calling it “a bold plan.”

But on Tuesday, Selectman Paul Hoyt said revisiting the issue made no sense after voters already agreed they favored fixing up the historic North High Street building. Money has been spent on an engineering study, and the board had already voted to spend up to $325,000 to embark on a course of foundation and other stabilization work.

“It seems like we’re going backward,” Hoyt said. “This (warrant article) is just going to muddy the waters.”

As proposed, voters would have been given five options: spend the $325,000 to stabilize the building; spend $700,000 to both stabilize it and improve energy efficiency; don’t spend anything until the building isn’t safe anymore or it no longer makes economic sense to use it; sell it and use the money for a replacement building; or tear it down and come up with a replacement plan.

The board voted 5–0 to delete the article from the warrant. Chairman Doug Taft said he still saw the need for a larger facility in the future, but that he agreed with Hoyt’s reasoning.

After deciding to stay the course, the board had to figure out how to pull together the $325,000 in funding for the stabilization work.

Anne Krieg, director of planning, economic and community development, said she had gotten the word from Cumberland County Development Director Aaron Shapiro April 11 that his office “will not permit” the town to switch CDBG funding from the Depot Street streetscape project to Town Hall.

“The Town Hall project is a new project beginning in 2014, with limited public input on the use of CDBG funds towards the renovation; we cannot backtrack and use previous funds for a newly-created project for 2014,” she wrote in a memo to the board.

There was some discussion about delaying the start of construction to take advantage of a future CDBG funding cycle, but Krieg advised against doing it in that manner, especially after having consulted with Shapiro.

Therefore, selectmen decided, in a series of motions, to pay for the up to $325,000 in stabilization costs for Town Hall in the following manner:

• The proposed budget, beginning July 1, under article 856-8-9052, will have available $103,030 in CDBG funds available from prior years to go toward the project.

• For the balance, voters at the June Town Meeting will be asked to borrow up to $225,000, at an interest rate not to exceed 5.5 percent. To avoid burdening taxpayers with the debt, voters will also be asked if they want to pay for that borrowing by dedicating up to five years of funding from the Moose Pond Land Trust fund to pay the annual debt service that the borrowing of the $225,000 creates.

• Selectmen also agreed to use some other available funds to reduce the amount to be borrowed.

In another action, Krieg proposed, and the board agreed, that voters be asked to spend up to $128,000 in TIFF funds to make up the shortfall for the Depot Street project.

 

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