Town Hall renovation draws most talk at Bridgton annual meeting
By Wayne E. Rivet
With sections of new clapboards giving the Town Hall a nicer look, Chuck Renneker wondered if local residents know just how much money Bridgton has spent to date to upgrade the North High Street structure.
He told the 70 or so taxpayers attending last week’s annual town meeting the exact number.
$742,000, which was given to Renneker the day of town meeting. He noted that another $35,000 would be spent for paving.
“Now look around,” he said. “That money has been spent on the exterior of the building, except for the heating system. Look what needs to be done on the inside. Two years ago, this board told us it would not cost more than $500 to $525,000. I bring this forward to point out to the town that when we spend money, we should do so wisely. I hope in the future, when we make decisions, we are wise in those decisions.”
Resident Dee Miller noted that “we are sitting in this building, doing the same things that townspeople have done for years and years. That means something to me and hopefully to other people.”
Town Manager Bob Peabody said the total amount expected to be spent on the Town Hall was unknown at the moment, saying the selectmen “determine what projects we do.”
Former selectman Ken Murphy said he voted to make improvements because the Hall represents an “investment” in the town and it represents a lot of history, which should be preserved.
“What they are doing to this Town Hall, to me, means you are preserving a piece of property that has a lot more value than a number of buildings that remain in this town,” he said. “If we haven’t finished, hopefully that comes soon. You always need upgrades.”
In other town meeting business,
- Two-term selectmen Bernie King was presented a plaque by Board Chairman Greg Watkins for his service to the town. King spoke briefly to the audience saying his “long, hard” decision to not seek re-election was based solely on wanting to spend more of his time on hobbies and family. “I really enjoyed my time as a selectman and always tried to do the very best I could for the benefit of the Town of Bridgton.” Regarding working with past selectmen, King added, “We didn’t always agree — I thought they should have — but we did get a lot accomplished.”
- Resident Corinne Davis questioned where were figures regarding Salmon Point Campground? Town Manager Bob Peabody clarified that the campground is an “enterprise fund,” much like the Waste Water Commission, which is overseen and voted upon by selectmen. As for recent clearing of trees and development of a new parking lot, Peabody said residents are welcome to attend selectmen’s meetings, including when Salmon Point is being discussed, to ask questions regarding the public beach and campground.
- When the article regarding money for general government operation ($2-plus million) reached the floor, resident Jim Cossey questioned why the previous year budget amounts were not included on the warrant — a point that was raised a year ago, and officials agreed to provide such information this June.
“How do we compare one year to the next unless we see that number?” Cossey asked.
Peabody pointed out that information was printed in the “Town Meeting Gazette,” a four-page, stapled handout that was available on a table as taxpayers entered the Town Hall.
“It will tell you what the increase or decrease was in that item,” Peabody said. “That cost center (general government) increased by $42,085.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to list it on the warrant?” Cossey asked.
“The issue that you run into when you put last year’s numbers in the warrant is you aren’t always comparing apples to oranges because items change, the cost center might change, and you might not have a true comparison,” Peabody responded.
“I think the point is to have a true comparison we need to know how much the budget increases or decreases year to year and numbers we can read and understand,” Cossey said.
Art Triglione said the warrant is available to the public in advance of town meeting, giving taxpayers a chance to scrutinize figures, and having what was spent a year ago included on the warrant allows taxpayers to make valid comparisons.
“If there is a question, that’s why we are here, to ask that question,” Triglione added. He suggested that next year town officials include those numbers on the warrant.
- Resident Alison Adams noted that Smith Avenue has been paved, and wondered when Maple Street will see some “much needed” improvements. Cossey asked selectmen if taxpayers could be made aware of roads up for paving, and possibly have the list published in the newspaper.
- When “annual housekeeping articles” — #21 through #34 — were up for action, taxpayers closed out the meeting just after 8 p.m. by deciding to vote upon the items as a “block.”