Petition would put off plans to fix Town Hall

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

A citizens’ petition has been filed to stop Bridgton Selectmen from going forward with plans to spend up to $325,000 to stabilize the Town Hall.

On the ballot for Tuesday, June 10, is a referendum for a Town Hall Ordinance that would stop the town from “reconstruction, remodeling, rehabilitation, restoration or repairs” to the Town Hall during fiscal year July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015. Only “normal or emergency repairs” would be allowed.

The proposed ordinance would also make available any “monies raised from real estate tax revenue, grants or trust funds” for “other town needs.” What is meant by “other town needs” is not specified, but Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz said Tuesday he believes the petitioners want to earmark the funds for the Depot Street project so that the proposed use of $128,000 in TIFF money will not be necessary.

A total of 313 valid signatures were included in the petition, which is 84 more names than required under state laws for citizens’ petitions. A citizens’ petition must be signed by at least 10% of residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

Among those who signed the petition were Nelle Ely, Richard Dana, Chuck Renneker and Mark Lopez.

Berkowitz said that if the referendum question is approved, “it will make null and void any appropriations in the budget” proposed for the 2014–2015 fiscal year.

After much discussion, selectmen decided, at their last meeting, to go ahead with spending money to stabilize the building, even though there had been some talk of putting the work off or even tearing the building down. To pull together the $325,000 for phase 1 work, as recommended by an engineering consultant, the board voted to use $103,030 in Community Development Block Grant funds left over from prior years, and to borrow the balance of $225,000, using Moose Pond Land Trust money over five years to pay the annual debt service created by the borrowing. The first payment of the debt service from the trust fund, under the board’s plan, wouldn’t be until July of 2015.

Berkowitz said the referendum would only put off spending funds for the Town Hall for the next fiscal year, and that if the question passes, a future board could revisit the Town Hall project in the 2015–2016 fiscal year.

By crafting the question as an ordinance, said Berkowitz, the citizens’ petition would become a law if it passes.

A second citizens’ petition asks voters to amend the Tower Ordinance to specify setbacks of towers from residential homes. There are also eight other referendum questions, dealing with amendments to six town ordinances (Bear River, Alarm Systems, Sign, Site Plan Review, Shoreland Zoning and Willis Brook Aquifer ordinances) and two new ordinances: Affordable Housing Local Preference and Fire Protection ordinances.

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