New face, same chairman for Bridgton selectmen

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Bridgton Selectmen reelected Bernie King as chairman, and named newly reelected Selectman Bob McHatton vice chairman, at the board’s first meeting Tuesday. The new board includes a new face: Greg Watkins, the top vote-getter in the June 9 election. Watkins replaces Doug Taft, who ran as a write-in candidate but was not reelected.

The board voted not to make any change to their current regular meeting dates of the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month. A proposal had been on the table to make the second meeting a workshop session, but selectmen decided workshops could be called to augment the regular meetings if needed.

Taft had served as a board liaison on several town committees, so it was necessary to find other board members to fill those roles. Member Paul Hoyt agreed to sit in on Community Development Committee meetings this summer, and McHatton said he would take over that role in the fall.

Watkins agreed to be the board’s liaison on the new Land Use Committee that will be crafting a new town-wide zoning ordinance. Member Ken Murphy and King will serve on the Pondicherry Park Stewardship Committee, and both King and McHatton will serve as liaisons to the Bridgton Recreation Advancement Group (BRAG).

In other action Tuesday:

Vivo’s benefit

Selectmen agreed to close off Depot Street from 4 to 8 p.m. this Saturday, June 27, for a “Bridgton Strong” benefit in support of the rebuilding plans for Vivo’s Country Italian Restaurant & Bar at 18 Depot Street. A fire destroyed the ±100-year-old building June 5, just days before the business was to open following an extensive renovation project.

Organizer Mody Boutros, owner of About Time Graphics a few doors down from Vivo’s, said insurance didn’t cover $80,000 in kitchen equipment that had just been delivered the day before the fire, and community members want to show their support for the rebuilding efforts of Vivo’s owners James Burke and Joanie Wilson. The event will take place from 5 to 8 p.m.

“The idea was to have everybody in front of the property,” sharing food and music, and bidding on raffles, Boutros said. Hoyt wanted to know if the event was a fundraiser, and Boutros confirmed that it was. The street will be closed after the first entrance to the town parking lot to the Tap House, which will be open during the event.

Town Manager Bob Peabody said that both entrances to the parking lot would remain open during the road closure, so there should be no interruption to regular traffic.

Tap House owner Carrye Castleman-Ross thanked the board for allowing the road closure, saying, “It says a lot about Bridgton and how we all work together.”

Help with sidewalks

Abby King, an advocacy staff person for Bike Maine, told the board her organization stands ready to help Bridgton in any way they can in improving connectivity of the town’s network of sidewalks. She and Stephanie Carver of the Greater Portland Council of Governments congratulated the board for progress already made since 2011, when GPCOG completed a Bridgton Walkability Study documenting the sidewalk system as it existed then.

Sidewalks have been built at the entrance to Hannaford, lower Depot Street and most recently, on both sides of upper Depot Street.

King and Carver said state Department of Transportation funding for sidewalks is increasingly difficult to secure, so it behooves towns to keep track of upcoming DOT construction projects and negotiate for sidewalks at that time, when the cost of construction is much less.

“It will be important for you to prioritize your sidewalk program” in planning capital improvement projects, King said. “You have such an investment in walkability” already, she said, it only makes sense to create more connectivity by linking sidewalks to parking, services and facilities, and to the beach.

King said it might seem odd for BikeMaine to be focusing on pedestrian walking issues, but both biking and walking are closely tied together in building healthy communities. There are online resources that Bridgton can use to keep track of their sidewalk system, she added.

Carry it forward

Selectmen approved a list of Carry Forward Requests prepared by Peabody, or fund balances that have not been spent or committed at the end of the fiscal year. Several of the requests were needed in order to migrate funds into reserve accounts as designated under the town’s new Reserve Accounts Policy, said Peabody.

“This is so you don’t have to vote to carry forward funds year after year,” he explained.

The requests totaled $1.356 million, with the bulk of the carry forwards coming from the public works department.

Equipment sold

Selectmen agreed to accept the highest bid on two trucks and a chipper deemed surplus by the town. Corey Fitch was the high bidder on a 2008 Ford Crown Victoria, for $1,350; Steve Day will buy a 1973 Ford F800 for $1,212; and Day also earned the right to buy a 1987 portable chipper for $1,100.

Manager’s Report

Peabody said he signed the revaluation contract with O’Donnell Appraisal, and that the company will begin the town-wide revaluation “immediately.” He said local, state and county law enforcement have been given the identifying information of all cars that will be used as the agents visit properties in Bridgton, so that it will be clear the agents are on official business and not snooping around.

Peabody said he’s received a preliminary draft of the “long anticipated” Fire Department Study done by PSSG. Selectmen will meet with PSSG representatives on Wednesday, July 8, at 3:30 p.m. to go over the results. King noted that the workshop meeting would be open to the public. No details of the draft were given.

Peabody also said that the town has begun advertising for the new part-time Administrative Assistant position as approved by voters in this year’s budget. The person will be providing support for both the planning and code enforcement offices as well as other duties.

He said the town has hired an on-call Assistant Town Clerk, and on-call Animal Control officer and a new Park Ranger for the summer. The Park Ranger will patrol Pondicherry Park, Salmon Point Beach, Plummer’s Landing, Highland lake Beach and Woods Pond Beach, and will work under the direction of the police chief/sergeant.

Town Hall update

Planning Director Anne Krieg said that following Town Meeting, she negotiated contract revisions with Doten Construction for stabilization work on Town Hall. The board had earlier authorized $170,000 to be spent, and Krieg said town officials will be meeting with the bank next week on a loan that would allow the new contract amount of $327,000.

With a building permit now in place, she said, “You should see movement on the site later this week into next week” as the outside repairs get underway. The project includes drainage work in the rear parking lot to prevent future water intrusion into the building, but does not include a new heating system, she said.

Public Works Director Jim Kidder surprised those present when he spoke about the roof leak that had been discovered during a recent inspection. It had been described as a hole in the roof, but Kidder said, “Technically, there is no hole in the roof.”

Kidder said water got into the walls of the Bridgton side of the building because an old covering near the chimney “had flipped up,” and has since been able to be secured back in place.

Asked what the hole and covering were once used for, Kidder said, “Santa Claus? I don’t know.”

Resident Glen “Bear” Zaidman said the opening might have once been used for the town bell.

Volunteer recognition

Low attendance at the recent Volunteer Recognition barbeque at Camp Wildwood led Hoyt to ask, “is it the day? Is it the time? Is it the time of year? Or does nobody want to come and let’s not do it?” The event was held at 4 p.m. on a weekday.

Zaidman, who works at the summer camp, said the time of day wasn’t ideal for working people, and one town volunteer, Bill Vincent, confirmed that it was for that reason he was unable to attend the gathering.

It was agreed that a Saturday event would be better, and that personal invitations might be more effective than a general notice of invitation. King said members of town-appointed committees ought to be polled to see what activities might enhance the gathering, such as a softball game.

Depot Street topcoat

As landscaping and some concrete work are all that remains in completing the Depot Street streetscape project, Krieg said it was decided to hold off on laying the topcoat of pavement until after Vivo’s is rebuilt. She said the delay will help avoid any damage from heavy construction equipment travelling back and forth from the restaurant site.

Kidder added that by delaying the paving, the town will also be able to lay a topcoat on the lower end of Depot Street, by Ricky’s Diner. “So it will be a better product in the end,” he said.

Krieg noted that benches donated by businesses are now on order and should be installed soon. Streetlights are still pending, she added.

Memorial School woes

Selectmen once again bemoaned the lack of progress in negotiating with the SAD 61 for eventual takeover of the former Memorial School at the end of Depot Street. King noted that the district has completed a facilities study that “hardly mentions the Memorial School at all.”

For the past four years or more, the town has tried to come up with a plan for repurposing the prime downtown property, but has been stymied by the school district’s reluctance to commit to turning the property over to the town.

“They’ll put it off for the next 10 years if we let them,” Murphy said. “Now that the study’s here, let’s do something.”

Peabody said the last time the town had contact with the district about the school’s status was in April, when the district said any decision will need to await review by the Facilities Committee.

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