Education, not advocacy, is Next Gen’s role in sewer vote

 

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

With only a month to go before the vote, some in Bridgton are concerned about the effectiveness of the public relations firm the town hired to explain the need for a new fee structure for sewer system users.

“I’m really nervous about time, and where we’re at and what little time we have until Town Elections,” Selectman Greg Watkins said during selectmen’s concerns at the Board of Selectmen’s May 10 meeting. The proposed revisions to the sewer ordinance will appear as Question 1 on the Tuesday, June 14 Town Elections, with polls open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Town Hall.

Wastewater Committee member Lucia Terry also was worried, not just about time but about the neutral stance being taken by Next Generation Strategies, a government lobbying service out of Hingham, Mass. She said she realizes that the main goal of the consulting firm, hired a month ago at a cost of $10,000, is to educate likely voters about the revisions. But someone needs to take on an advocacy role, she said.

“We need to be urging people to vote yes on this, and telling them why,” Terry said. “It’s our last chance to take more active steps, while we still have a month.”

Revising the current method of sewer allocation will free up unused capacity in the Bridgton sewer system that serves the downtown, thereby allowing for new commercial development and renovation of buildings now sitting vacant. The proposed new ordinance was rejected by voters last November because of fears that there would be a cost to taxpayers and that passage would inevitably lead to an expensive expansion to the system, both of which is not the case.

Terry said the Wastewater Committee is drafting a statement of support and has been working hard for several years to explain why the current allocation-based system is flawed, in that it doesn’t reflect the actual amount of capacity left in the system. Spreading operational costs to all users by an equivalent user-based system is a more equitable and more accurate way to pay for the system.

Terry encouraged any resident with questions to contact a committee member or attend their meetings, which are open to the public.

Selectman Paul Hoyt agreed, and said that members of both the board of selectmen and the committee should write letters to the editor in The Bridgton News.

“When it comes to election day, I think a lot of people do look to the newspaper,” Hoyt said.

Watkins said any direct mailing about the sewer vote should include the message that the board recommends a yes vote.

But Selectman Chairman Bernie King said advocacy is not the role of Next Generation Strategies. “They don’t recommend, all they do is do the research,” he said. “We didn’t hire them to do a political campaign.”

Town Manager Bob Peabody pointed out that when the vote was made to hire outside help, “the board’s message was that education was needed,” and that advocacy “wasn’t the directive from the board.”

Planning Director Anne Krieg said she has enlisted members of the Bridgton Economic Development Corporation to help with public outreach. And Peabody said he would work on a letter to the editor.

Adult Ed space?

Peabody said he met with SAD 61 School Superintendent Al Smith, who was enthusiastic about the possibility that the school district’s Adult Ed satellite program in Bridgton could relocate to a portion of the proposed new Welcome Center on Nulty Street. Funding is included in this year’s budget to purchase the Bridgton Redemption Center at 7 Nulty Street and renovate it for use as a welcome center with restrooms. The Adult Education program now uses space in the downstairs conference room of the Bridgton Municipal Complex.

Skateboard Park

During Selectmen’s Concerns, King said that it might be time to consider removing the skateboard park at the end of Depot Street, which he said is seldom used by skateboarders, who prefer the Bob Dunning Bridge and the Bridgton Library parking lot.

“It’s all been bicyclists, or young people just hanging around” at the skateboard park, King said. “I would have no objection if we just pulled that whole thing out of there. It breeds trouble.”

McHatton strongly disagreed, noting that the town spent $70,000 to build the park. “I was against a skateboard law, I don’t think we need it,” he said, referring to the town’s Skateboard Ordinance that prohibits skateboarding on public property. Tearing down the designated park, he said, “would create more of a nuisance, because then they’d have nowhere to go.”

Microloan Program

Planning Director Anne Krieg did the legwork to resurrect the town’s Microloan Program, and the board approved her revised guidelines Tuesday. There is $70,000 currently in the fund, and startup businesses, including home businesses, will be able to apply for up to $10,000. The loan will be repayable at low interest over five years, and the payments will revolve back into the fund.

The previous cap on loans was $25,000, but Krieg said a higher amount would deplete the fund with only three loans. At least one employee of the business must meet low- to moderate-income guidelines when hired in order for the business to receive the funds, which come from the federal Housing and Urban Development Program.

Downtown Streetscape

A draft design for aesthetic and safety improvements along downtown Main Street will be unveiled by Ironwood Design Group at the next selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday, May 24. The engineering firm will meet with the board at 4 p.m. for a workshop before the 5 p.m. regular meeting. After hearing board members’ comments and feedback, Ironwood will make revisions and come back with a final design in June, Krieg said. A map of the downtown project area has been placed in the lobby of the Bridgton Municipal Complex for people to mark up with their comments and/or suggestions, she said.

Merchants marketing

Krieg also said she has been meeting with downtown retail storeowners to encourage them to coordinate their marketing efforts as a group. A shared marketing agreement among the merchants is one of the recommendations in the updated Comprehensive Plan. “I’m pretty excited that that’s happening,” she said.

Town Warrant

Selectmen reviewed and approved the warrant for the Town Meeting, set for Wednesday, June 15, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. Hoyt had questions about the total operations cost for running the Salmon Point Campground. Peabody said $58,401 is expected in revenues from camping fees, and will be used to offset staff salaries. The budget’s capital expenditures include $30,000 for a new playground and $30,000 for a new bathrooms at the campground.

McHatton said voters would want to know which articles include funds for new positions. The budget includes money to hire a full-time fire chief and a new police officer.

Adam Perron plaque

Selectmen agreed to install a plaque on a granite bench in Pondicherry Park honoring Adam Perron, who was killed in a traffic accident on April 20. Perron was a member of Pondicherry Park’s Steering Committee when the park was in the development phase. Peabody said he discussed a memorial for Perron with board members and members of the steering committee, and all agreed that the plaque would be the most appropriate gesture to recognize all the contributions he made to the park

“Adam was highly regarded as an environmentalist and as a teacher,” Peabody said. The cost will be taken from the Pondicherry Park Reserve Fund.

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