2016-07-08 / Community

Time for reflection, planning in Kennebunk

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — With the close of the fiscal year on June 30, selectmen have entertained year-end reports from department heads, outlining accomplishments over the past year, and goals in sight through 2017.

It’s a new process, which Town Manager Barry Tibbetts said he expect to continue not just at the end of each year, but two to three times per year, going forward.

At the board’s June 28 meeting, reports were delivered by the town clerk, fire chief, police chief, economic development director and finance director.

Town clerk

Town Clerk Merton Brown said one of his biggest accomplishments during the past year was the conversion of dog licensing from a paper system to a computer database of nearly 2,000 animals. Also, undertaken was a new filing system for town deeds, easements and property agreements.

“They were kind of every which way and in between, but they’re now alphabetized and in order so they’re much easier to find,” he said.

A record restoration project began several years ago, with Kennebunk’s vital records now preserved through 1980.

Merton said his primary goal for the coming year is to complete training of election staff, given the presidential vote coming up, and to meet with all town committees to help them establish basic meeting bylaws where they do not exist and to establish procedures for the submission of meeting minutes for public review.

“I also want to create a welcome packet for all new residents,” he said. “That’s something that’s always been lacking, and most people who are moving to town really want to know how to do things, such as trash and voting, and car registrations, and all the rest of it. So, if we could put that together in a document, I think it would be well received.

In response to questions from selectmen, Brown said he fielded just one complaint about the new curtainless voting booths, while opening the polls for elections at 6 a.m. has drawn significant traffic.

“This will be the first time we’ve done it for a presidential election, and I think from that 6 to 8 a.m. period, we will see huge numbers,” he said.

Fire department

Fire Chief Jeff Rowe said that since bringing on John Brady as EMS division chief in March 2015, work has been done to establish a duty roster “to guarantee someone is in town at all rank levels at all times.”

The fire and rescue departments have also worked to standardize uniforms and vehicle branding, he said, noting that fleet additions over the past year included a new squad car, a brush truck and ambulance, and a small inflatable rescue boat.

The fire department also replaced two emergency generators at town hall and began planning with the public works department to create a maintenance schedule for all department vehicles.

Also purchased this past year, Rowe said, was a smartphone GPS program called “I Am Responding,” which helps volunteer firefighters pinpoint the location of a call, while also helping dispatchers and firehouse personnel know who is responding to any given incident.

On the community relations front, the department became one-quarter owner of an educational smoke trailer, in partnership with the North Berwick, Wells, and Ogunquit fire crews.

It also installed 153 free smoke detectors in 43 homes, placed 12 automatic defibrillator units in the community, and provided instruction in CPR to 882 residents at 156 classes.

“There’s a handful of people downstairs [in the fire department] who do that, so that’s quite an accomplishment,” Rowe said of the CPR training.

On tap for the coming year, Rowe said, are plans to strengthen the town’s emergency management procedures, and to establish replacement schedules for both equipment and retiring personnel, “so there’s no surprises when it comes to budget board times.”

Capital purchases for the coming year are only slated to include one new ambulance “and some smaller equipment,” Rowe said.

In addition, Rowe said he hopes to use members of a new summer intern program he hopes to create to canvass the community, urging residents to comply with a town ordinance that dictates how and where house numbers should be displayed, in order to help emergency crews find call locations late at night.

“Whether we will see 100 percent conformity in our lifetimes, I don’t know, but it’s a good number to shoot for,” he said.

In response to questions from selectmen, Rowe said the fire and EMS departments rolled out to “about 1,100” calls last year, which is off from recent years.

“Revenues [from ambulance billing] are down a little, but maybe we have a healthier community,” Rowe said.

Of course, there are still hectic times. On Saturday, June 25, the department rushed to 17 different calls for help, he said.

Police department

Police Chief Robert Mackenzie said his department recently graduated its second citizens police academy group, designed to build public awareness of how the department functions. Combined with the first class, academy graduates have now donated more than 300 hours of volunteer time to the department, he said. A third class is scheduled to start in August and interested residents can sign up at the police station.

In the near future, Mackenzie said, he’d like to help establish the academy as an independent 501c(3) nonprofit, and begin tasking graduates with actual police work, such as issuing both warnings and actual tickets for parking violations, particularly along Main Street.

Mackenzie said he also intends to continue and expand community outreach efforts in addition to the citizens academy, including the well-received “Coffee with the Chief” sessions, and the department’s presence on social media.

Among the department’s biggest accomplishments of the year, Mackenzie said, was a comprehensive audit of its property and evidence room, including the addition of a bar code scanner on all objects, which, he predicted, would “enhance time management in the detective division.”

“That’s a big deal and is really long overdue,” he said of the project.

Mackenzie said he also hopes to work with neighboring police departments in the coming year to create a “peer-support crisis intervention team,” to step in when officers are involved in “serious calls” that, he said, “can affect them emotionally.”

“We are trained to handle anything, and we can,” he said. “Still, that stuff can stay with you and really wreaks havoc with the officer’s emotional well-being. So we feel it’s important to offer this as a group effort.”

Meanwhile, the police department is mobilizing to combat the state’s burgeoning drug crisis. The department recently placed its first officer as an agent of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, making Kennebunk eligible for a portion of any property forfeitures and seizures in cases in which that officer participated.

All KPD officers have also now been trained in how to administer the opioid overdose antidote Narcan, which is now carried in all department vehicles, Mackenzie said. While Kennebunk paid for the first batch, the state is now providing Narcan to departments with officers trained in use of the drug, he said.

Economic development

Economic Development Director Mathew Eddy listed off dozens of businesses large and small that his team has worked with over the past year, aiding them with community development block grants and relocation services, noting that “we’ve got at least 20 we’re talking with now,” even though the town did not get its latest grant request.

In particular, the town has worked over the past year to expand sectors for medical and senior services, as well as the so-called “creative economy,” Eddy said, and expects to remain focused on those areas in the coming year.

“In that cluster Plixer has an immediate problem in the next year with relocation,” he said.

Tourism also remains a major focus, Eddy said, noting an increasing partnership with the local chamber of commerce.

“That has really become a good, strong working relationship in the last year,” he said.

Eddy said his department will continue to work on plans for a local stop on the AMTRAK line, with hopes of spurring mixed-use development in the area of the new train station while also continuing work on the comprehensive plan and Lower Village revisioning.

The first phase of a new way-finding program is complete, Eddy said, with directional signs now being made, while stormwater management will be a priority of TIF fund spending recommendations for the coming year.

Eddy also noted the purchase and sale agreement recently signed for the former Garden Street Market building, slated to become a restaurant and bowling alley, after several false starts at redeveloping the site.

“That’s coming along and I kind of feel like we’ve got it the first time in five years,” he said.

However, Eddy noted that a boatyard planned for the old Route 1 rest area is facing challenges, with confirmation of a vernal pool just 10 feet off the highway.

“That’s become an interesting problem,” he said.

Finance Office

Joel Downs, whose job as finance director includes oversight of tax collection, treasury, assessing, internet technology and general assistance, tried to touch on all aspects during his address, although much dealt with arcane accounting rules, which, he acknowledged, did not make for the most compelling presentation.

So far as the town budget goes, he said Kennebunk had a very good year on some revenue lines, with excise taxes, in particular, running some $300,000 above expectations, to $2.2 million. State revenue sharing was up $430,000, while beach parking permits are running $40,000 above projections with nearly $11,000 collected in the first 15 days of June, alone.

Revenue from building permits ran $80,000 above target, although ambulance billing was off by nearly $50,000.

Tax collection for the 2015-2016 fiscal year is running at 97.5 percent, Downs said, noting the impact of reminder cards to delinquent accounts and the withholding of beach permits from some past-due personal property accounts. The town is currently earning an average of just 0.6 percent on its investments, Downs said, but he hopes to boost that to 0.75 percent over the coming year.

Although all departments finished the fiscal year on or under budget, there were a few line items to note, including the legal fees account, off by some $25,000 thanks to the lawsuit over Doane’s Wharf parking and union contract negotiations that took longer to resolve than expected. Vehicle maintenance was also short by $15,000 due to increased work done by the town garage to inspect and maintain the town’s fleet, while the pool for secretarial services to municipal committees came up in the red by $5,000.

Among the largest projects for the year, apart from budgeting and tax collecting, the assessing department completed scanning of all physical records, and is currently reviewing digital files, Downs said, prior to destroying the old paper files.

Assessing information is also now being updated and made available online on a monthly basis. Previously, those updates only happened once per year.

Sometime this fall, Downs said, selectmen will be asked to review the town’s policy on tax-acquired property, and to review a list of all such lots on town books.

On the IT front, Downs said GPS units were installed this past year in all town vehicles, and a new phone system was put in place. In the coming year, he expects to install new security cameras at the town garage and teen center, and work with the water and sewer departments on a new online GIS property-viewing program.

However, the big item on the docket, Downs said, is the board of selectmen’s planned strategic planning process and infrastructure needs assessment, in which he expects to be heavily involved, along with the town’s volunteer budget board.

“All of that means capital planning and debt planning, planning, and that means budget board,” he said.

Other departments

At its June 14 meeting, the board also received year-end reports from Public Services Director Eric Labelle, Town Engineer and Community Development Director Chris Osterrieder, Library Director Jill LeMay, and Human Resources Director Michael Pardue. Those reports will be reviewed in the next issue of The Kennebunk Post.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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