Town Meeting preview: Casco voters to review two town hall options

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — The future of the Town Hall should be history after the Casco Town Meeting on Wednesday.

Two warrant articles will provide residents with two options for a revitalized town hall. The location has been narrowed down to the lot where the Casco Fire Station sits.

“Two things have held up the town office project forever: the uncertainty of where it would go, and the cost,” Morton said.

These warrant articles appear before the public 10 years after town employees moved into the building that was meant to be a temporary solution.

Warrant Article 24, the option being recommended by the Casco Board of Selectmen — as well as the Casco Finance Committee — is to build new on the town property. The money to be appropriated for the new building is $600,000.

When original estimates were revealed earlier this winter, the cost was about $900,000 — an amount that made selectmen uncomfortable about selling to the taxpayers. However, the selectmen figured that costs could be lowered if the town acted as general contractor, according to Morton.

“Usually, a large contractor goes in and adds a percentage to their bid. They charge a premium on subcontractors. In this case, the town would be the contractor,” he said.

“We can reduce everything by a couple hundred thousand dollars,” he said.

The other town hall option, Warrant Article 25, originated as a citizens’ signature petition, which was circulated by Ray Grant. The proposed article would use the existing town hall, and construct a modest addition. The heating system would be updated to be more cost effective. The cost associated with building onto the standing structure is $350,000.

Grant has said the purpose behind the citizens’ petition was to offer another solution to residents and to minimize the impact on the tax rate.

Both the selectmen and the budget committee recommended a “no” vote on Article 25.

One thing that came to light, when selectmen signed the paperwork to make the build-on town option a warrant article, was that the structure where the Town Office currently operates was built by the Casco Fire Association to be the fire department’s shed.

Essentially, as pointed out by Jim Willey during that selectmen’s meeting, there was an understanding between some of the members of the fire association and people involved in the volunteer-basis construction that summer. The structure was being erected so that the fire department would have storage space, and a new space would be found for the town office.

According to Morton, in 2006, the town office used to be in the building, where the Casco Community Center stands. The original building was torn down after the town discovered “serious mold issues and structural issues,” he said.

“We had some water leaking, and when we pulled out the ceiling panels, there was mold in the ceiling and in the walls. It was fairly pervasive. We had to move out of the building,” Morton said.

At the time, the Fire Department had money in its Capital Plan to build a storage building. The fire department said they would build their storage building and it would suffice as an emergency temporary town office,” Morton said, recalling it was constructed in about three to six months over the summer of 2006.

In 2009, a nonbinding straw poll was held to decide on a location. Morton said the majority had maybe 15 to 20 more votes than the minority.

The entire populous of Casco could not agree on a single best site for their new town office.

“There has always been competition over where to put the town hall. There was a group that didn’t want investment in the Village. There was a group that wanted to see it back in the Village. The groups who didn’t want to see it in that particular location, did not want to back the cost,” Morton said.

Residents desired to have the town hall in their preferred location, and “all for good reasons. I am not making light of opinions, he said.

In 2015, there is one future town hall location and two warrant articles that address that.

The town-owned property, where the Casco Central Fire Station is located, is between three and four acres. The building, now serving as town office, is set on the back corner of the property with a 25-foot boundary behind it.

If voters approve the build-new option, the costs would be covered by a 15-year bond. The bond paperwork, which includes annual payments and interest calculations, is included in the warrant article documents that voters will receive.

The repayment of the bond would affect the yearly tax rate by 8 cents, Morton said.

He noted that the town has paid off all of its debt.

To preview a copy of the warrant articles, go to the Town of Casco website. On the home page, under Town Meeting, people can view or print a PDF of the warrant articles. Copies may also be obtained at the town office.

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