Division aired over Town Hall funding

“What do you do with the Jumpin’ Janes?”

—    Bridgton Selectman Paul Hoyt

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Bridgton residents, in favor of stripping this year’s budget of a funding package to stabilize Town Hall, turned out in force Tuesday to make their case. But they were met with some surprising opposition from those who support Bridgton Selectmen and want the funding plan left intact.

At issue was a citizens’ petition, Question 9 on the June 10 referendum warrant, which asks voters not to allow any work to be done on Town Hall in the coming fiscal year, other than normal or emergency repairs, and to redirect any funds earmarked for that work to other town needs. The 313 petition signers want a committee to be formed to plan for a larger, modern space for recreation.

A “Yes” vote would nullify selectmen’s proposals in this year’s budget to spend up to $325,000 to make Phase 1 repairs to the North High Street building as recommended by an engineer to stabilize it for use for town recreation programs and town elections. The funding package is a combination of $103,030 in unused prior year Community Development Block Grant funds and a $225,000 loan, including a separate proposal to pay the debt service over five years using the $55,000 annual allocation of Moose Pond Trust Funds.

Lead petition backer Chuck Renneker led off the public hearing by questioning whether the board’s funding plan was “financially responsible.” He said selectmen made no effort to get cost estimates from local contractors and, if they had, they would have found that the repairs could be done “for actually far less.” As example, he said he fully-repaired and restored his commercial building at 82 Main Street for $100,000.

Renneker minimized the need for some of the Phase 1 repairs and questioned why insulation work wasn’t included, when it cost $21,000 a year to heat the building. He questioned using CDBG funding, since doing so will require the town to pay “Bacon-Davis” or union wages, under CDBG rules.

Renneker questioned the wisdom of the board’s proposal of “stripping $55,000 a year from recreation funds” to pay off a $225,000 loan.

Resident Dot Kimball, however, urged voters to vote “No” on Question 9, reading from a brochure listing the many recreation programs that are held there. She said a new recreational facility would take years to plan and build, and didn’t want longtime successful programs like the Jumping Janes, to which she belongs, to be disrupted.

“A lot of people think Town Hall is just used for basketball and where we vote,” said Kimball. She said the planning has been done for the first phase of Town Hall repair work to keep the foundation from crumbling further, and insulation and other work can come later. “It’s baby steps at a time.”

“No one’s saying don’t do the work,” said Renneker. “I and a lot of other people don’t believe it is being done in a financially responsible manner. There needs to be a time-out.”

Mark Lopez, a petition signer, suggested a better course would be to convene a committee over the coming months to come up with a long-range plan. “For $693,000, you can build a very functional building” that would serve the town’s recreational needs. He also pointed out that the 2011 vote favoring spending up to $400,000 on repairs was “a nonbinding vote,” and urged the town to show some “fiscal restraint.”

Selectman Paul Hoyt, in answer to Lopez’s comment, pointed out that “nowhere has that been brought up” to spend $693,000. The funding package authorizes spending “up to” $325,000, he said, indicating he’d be very happy if the costs came in at less than that amount, or if local contractors could be used.

Hoyt also said that everyone would agree that “there’s a three-to-five- or five-to-seven-year window” before a new recreational facility could be built, and in the meantime, “What do you do with the Jumpin’ Janes?” He said he didn’t see the point in waiting a year on repairs that are needed now.

“I don’t think this board has spent money frivolously,” Hoyt said. Forming a study committee is fine, he said, but in the meantime “(residents) still want that building standing. It’s been here since the Civil War.”

Lopez responded by telling Hoyt not to minimize saving money. “You say that it’s a penny (on the tax rate), but you say that a hundred times, it’s a dollar.”

Renneker told the board all the petitioners want is for the town to do its homework before going forward.

But Selectman Bob McHatton said, “Chuck, I thought that’s why we hired an engineer,”

Renneker said the engineer told him it would take $1.5 million to rebuild Town Hall. “That’s extremely expensive. That’s palatial.”

Resident Mike Tarantino said that until future planning is done, the town ought to hold off on the repairs. “We should put a very knowledgeable group together and start planning. If you do that, I might support it.”

Kimball indicated that more planning is also needed before redirecting the CDBG funds to Depot Street. “You want to take the money from Town Hall and spend it on Depot Street but they don’t know” what is eventually going to happen with the former Memorial School at the end of the street.

Betsy Morris agreed with Kimball that Question 9 ought to be defeated. “If we save money by going with local contractors, we might not have to use the CDBG funds” and would thereby not be required to pay higher wages.

Resident Jon Chappell disagreed with those petitioners who maintain that more planning is needed before going ahead with the Town Hall repairs. “There’s been plenty of planning. Some people say there’s been no planning because they don’t like the plan.”

 

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