Harrison signs road bond to get jump on spring project; manager receives ‘bonus’

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

HARRISON — Spring may seem a long time from now after Mother Nature has dumped close to three feet of fresh snow, but once road construction season arrives, the town will be ready.

Ready to seek and award construction/paving bids as part of an aggressive plan to improve Harrison roads within a two-year period.

On Friday, selectmen took the first step to get the ball rolling by signing a $1,375,000 bond with Androscoggin Bank. Taxpayers approved the bond in November. The town hopes to capitalize on low asphalt costs, while also putting road repair work on a faster track.

Town Manager Bud Finch said the town looked at both the Maine Bond Bank, as well as other lending institutions. Androscoggin Bank came in with a fixed 3.1% note, while also giving the town the option to pay off the note ahead of schedule without penalty.

“The bank also won’t hold the money. We can move it into our account so when spring arrives, the money will be there and we’ll be ready to go,” Finch said.

Finch is preparing bid packages.

In other meeting news:

  • Manager given bonus. Since Finch has received no pay increase since September 2013 (his salary is $69,160), selectmen approved a $5,000 bonus for the town manager following an executive session at the conclusion of Friday’s board meeting.

“We are giving Bud a bonus because we are pleased with his overall performance,” Board Chairman Matthew Frank said.

The money will be taken from the Administrative account, which Frank says the town anticipates a credit balance in this account at the fiscal year’s end (June 30).

Finch, who has been the town manager for six-plus years, is not scheduled for a raise this year, Frank added. Finch did receive a similar one-time adjustment in lieu of an hourly rate raise to cover 2013 to 2015.

Selectmen voted 3-1 (Achille Belanger opposed) in favor of the bonus.

  • Tracking fuel better. One point made in a recent town audit report was the need to track fuel use in a more efficient way.

When Finch first arrived as town manager, he suggested the purchase of the tracking system, but the idea was shelved. The town has used a paper (by hand) system over the years.

The system — at a price tag of about $7,100 — will record fuel use by user and vehicle, giving the town a better accounting. Finch was quick to note that the move to the new system is strictly a move toward greater efficiency, and that there have been no problems with unauthorized use of gasoline.

While Finch has one company in mind to purchase the tracking equipment, Board Chairman Matt Frank asked him to look around to see if a better price can be had.

The purchase will be made with funds from the Capital Reserve account, which targets items “that need to be fixed.”

  • Road posting. Selectmen voted 4–0 to post roads from March 1 to May 1.

Initially, Selectman Bill Winslow proposed to alter the posting period from March 15 to May 1, rather than the previous practice of March 1 to May 1. He voiced concerns about heavy vehicles damaging roadways (edges) that the town has recently worked on and invested heavily on.

“The roads are taking a beating this year,” he said.

Town Manager Bud Finch says the town tries to be flexible with those operating logging trucks or heavy equipment. If there is a colder day, then some arrangement may be made to allow trucks to access certain roadways, during certain hours of the day. If the weather warms and the ground softens, then it’s a no access day.

  • Budget Committee. Selectmen appointed the following members to the Budget Committee — Colleen Densmore, Pam Dyer, Richard Sykes and Patrick Bracken.

The group held an organizational meeting last Wednesday night. Their goal — to limit any tax increase and based on early information, the town manager sees the goal as “doable.”

  • Budget on track, so far. With seven months of the fiscal year completed, the town’s budget is on track.

Projected year-end municipal operation expenses are running below budget by $43,156 or 2.3%, while revenues are running $55,801 or 7.6% ahead of budget.

“As always this time of year, I will add there could still be plenty of winter ahead,” Finch noted.

  • Training day. The Clerk’s Office will close today, Feb. 16, at 1 p.m. for training.
  • Assessors deny abatements. By unanimous votes, assessors denied a poverty abatement following a 17-minute discussion in executive session and a $150,000 abatement request by James and Kathleen Walsh of 151 Ridgeview Road.

Assessor’s Agent John Wentworth reported that Walsh’s property is valued at $457,300. The building is 1,612 square feet each floor, has two decks, porch and quarters over a garage.

While the couple sought abatements also for 2014 and 2015, Wentworth said, by state statute, assessors could act on just 2016.

Wentworth checked property values of lots on the same side of the road that the Walsh property is on, as well as neighboring buildings, which ranged from $285,100 to $557,500.

Wentworth noted that since the property is being rented, he was unable to gain access to do an indoor inspection.

The board voted 3-0 to deny the request.

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