2016-09-02 / Front Page

Pavilion spending questioned

Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Although the open air pavilion on Main Street that bears the name of its benefactor, Geraldine Waterhouse, has been heralded as one of Kennebunk’s crowning jewels — even winning a “facilities of merit” award last year from the Maine Recreation and Park Association, at least one selectman is suggesting the town has reneged on its original promise.

“I was sitting in this room when we questioned the Waterhouse Center and what it was going to mean to the taxpayers of this town,” Selectman Ed Karytko said at the most recent board meeting, before turning to Town Manager Barry Tibbetts and adding, “I remember very clearly you saying it wasn’t going to cost the taxpayers one dime, and it’s now costing the taxpayers a lot of money.”

Recently, a new coating was put down over the concrete slab that serves as a base for the center’s ice skating rink.

That green surface, similar to products laid over tennis courts, “will enable better youth and elder activities with less impact on the joints of participants and will allow for more activities,” Tibbetts said.

According to Finance Director Joel Downs, the surface material cost $3,400, while the applicator product cost $1,200.

That bill was covered by the Waterhouse Youth Endowment Program. The labor for that job was performed by members of the town’s public works crew, at a cost of about $2,500. Tibbetts said outsourcing the project would have cost about $10,000, “with the town still doing some of the work.”

Still, Karytko was not pleased. Having fielded calls asking why the road crew was working at the Waterhouse Center, and having passed by himself numerous times on a sort of inspection tour, Karytko counted between four and five town garage workers at the center for full days for the better part of a week. At roughly $50 per hour per worker, when counting the cost of benefits, Karytko estimated the work cost the town closer to $2,000 per day than $2,500 total.

Karytko asked to have the topic debated at the Aug. 9 selectmen’s meeting.

“There was a reason for me doing this. I did not have any knowledge of the fact that we were painting the Waterhouse floor,” he said

Before Karytko could get any further into his introductory preamble, he was cut short by Selectman Chris Cluff.

“To be fair, you probably don’t know what half the people in this room do every day, either. That was just on Main Street in the public view,” Cluff said. “Do you really need to know everything that goes on every day?”

“Well, if it costs the taxpayers money, yes,” Karytko replied. “I’m looking at this wondering why is this project so important for us and why are we doing this. As a selectman, I’d really like to know where the money comes from and where it goes.”

Tibbetts said he does not track individual man-hours for side projects performed by the road crew, while Downs said the balance sheet account used to hold revenues from and expenses for the center are “co-mingled” with other downtown projects, making individual costs hard to tease out, except when he reconciles the account at the end of the fiscal year.

Those answers did not seem to satisfy Karytko, as he wanted a strict tally of all costs associated with the facility borne by the town. He also voiced concern that every hour highway crews worked at the Waterhouse Center was an hour they were not out working on the highways.

“For all the time they’ve spent down there, there’s an awful lot of roads that haven’t been touched yet,” he said. “We’re halfway through the summer and there’s been very little work done to roads. That concerns me.”

That concern extends beyond roads, said Tibbetts, pointing out that the town routinely presses public works employees into service at town parks (for routine maintenance), town hall (recently, to install insulation, among other things), pubic beaches (to rebuild boardwalks and lifeguard stations), and village centers (to build and place flower planters).

“Part of the allocation of how we use our team is to try and stick to their core functions, but the public works department to a certain extent kind of gets dumped on a lot of stuff because they have the manpower and they have a different kind of skill set than my other employees,” Tibbetts said. “Naturally, I couldn’t have fire or police guys doing carpentry work.”

“There is a balance, and I think that’s the question this board is going to have to answer over the next year, because I think it’s swinging way too far in one direction,” Karytko said, adding that, in addition to draining resources from road maintenance, assigning public works employees to the Waterhouse Center also may detract from other jobs in place before it came along in late 2014.

“There’s a lot of things in town that aren’t being taken care of because we’re spending time on the Waterhouse Center,” Karytko said, specifically referencing the Lloyd G. Nedeau Memorial Park ballfields at 1 Clear Brook Crossing.

“It’s terrible down there, just terrible,” he said. “My idea has always been, let’s take care of what we already have, and make sure we do a good job at that first, before we take the next step.”

Referencing a recent town survey, in which 65 percent of respondents said public infrastructure should rise to the top of the town’s to-do list, Karytko opined that means keeping road crews focused on their core competency, not using them as general laborers.

“To me, infrastructure is not flags and banners and paint on the Waterhouse Center. That means roads,” he said. “How many people are we going to have to have in public works to do all these things and still not get the roads done?”

Cluff made the counter argument.

“Infrastructure means the things we own, and, like it or not, we did buy and own this building,” he said. “Do we want to be micromanaging to this extent? I think, no, honestly.”

And, while Tibbetts steered clear of maintenance and road work done or not done throughout the town, he did address Karytko’s main complaint — saying the primary purpose of the Waterhouse foundation is covering all expenses for running the ice rink.

It also covers all water and electricity used at the site, as well as bathroom maintenance, year round.

The town takes care of snow removal and all capital expenses, with the town garage crew tuning up the Zamboni every season.

“We own that building, and we maintain the maintenance on that just like we do on any other building,” Tibbetts said. “I felt it was a fair compromise for the foundation to pay for all the materials and stuff and then to use the talents of our crew to do the work.”

Selectman Dan Boothby said Karytko had “strong, valid points,” while Chairman Richard Morin suggested snow removal is “as legitimate an expense,” as ice grooming in running a public skating rink, and should, perhaps, fall to the foundation.

That brought Karytko full circle to his initial concern — that what is happening today to fund Waterhouse Center operations is not quite the same thing selectmen were initially sold on, when it was strongly implied taxpayers would not be on the hook for upkeep.

At a Sept. 24, 2013, meeting, Tibbetts told selectmen interest on a $1.5 endowment created by Waterhouse and her granddaughter, Paige Herr, would generate $60,000 to $75,000 in annual funding for the facility.

“I think the potential is there to do this really very inexpensively,” he said at the time. “We want to make the building self-sustaining.”

At a December 2013 meeting, Tibbetts said proceeds from the sale of advertising also would be applied toward maintenance costs.

Eventually, Kennebunk Savings contributed $75,000 to have its logo embossed in the ice at the center line for three years, while Duffy’s Tavern and Grill and Northeast Coating Technologies each paid $50,000 to put their logos in the ice and on the Zamboni.

The sale of engraved bricks at the site brought in nearly $38,000 in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2015, Tibbetts said, although only a little less than $5,000 was realized last year.

That money has not gone to maintenance, instead being earmarked to repay $90,000 borrowed from Kennebunk’s downtown TIF district, used to help fund construction of the site. According to Karytko, if it had been said by Tibbetts from the outset in 2013 that taxpayers would cover labor costs to maintain the Waterhouse Center, and that highway crews would be supplying the elbow grease, things might have turned out differently.

“I think that would have thrown a whole different light on whether this project went through, and I think this happens far too often — we’re not given all the information and then the board is making decisions on partial information,” he said. “A lot of people were under the impression that we weren’t going to be touching that, and if we were, we were going to get paid for it.”

“The building is our building,” Tibbetts said. “I believe I was pretty clear on that and that we had responsibilities on that.”

Selectman Blake Baldwin stepped into the fray.

“So, what’s you’re desired outcome?” he asked. “Do you want to tear down the Waterhouse Center?”

“No, I just think what we do should be charged to the foundation,” Karytko said.

“Well, it can’t be, because the trust was set up with specific parameters that preclude capital expenditures of this type,” Baldwin replied.

“At this point you’re probably right,” Karytko said, “but I feel I just needed to point out that none of that was the understanding at the outset.”

“I don’t think there’s anyone who’s criticizing the existence of the facility,” Morin said. “But I do think there’s been a cloud, or a fog, or a blurry line possibly, as to the expenditures and what’s covered, and what isn’t.”

In the end, selectmen agreed to have their finance committee give special attention to Waterhouse Center costs going into the coming budget season.

Baldwin agreed the numbers should be itemized where the public can see them.

“Is there a line item in the budget for this, and if not, why not?” he said. “It seems to me that would be the right thing to do. Ed [Karytko] is not wrong in that we ought to know where the money is going.”

Selectmen Shiloh Schulte went a step further, saying the cost of upkeep at all public facilities should be itemized, for comparison’s sake, if nothing else, and that and time spent by the road crew doing that work should be tracked, although not everyone was keen on that level of scrutiny.

“How much time and energy do we want to put into that and what’s the usefulness of the data?” Cluff asked.

But that, said one member of the audience — Stephen Bowley, owner of Bowley Builders — is the crux of the question

“To me this is a bigger situation, if you’re not tracking man-hours you don’t know how to allocate manpower over time,” he said, appearing to fault Tibbett’s style of management.

“If you don’t know how much time it takes to do task, how do you even start your day?” he said.

Bowley said it must have cost the town more than the $2,500 cited by Downs to have town garage employees lay down the new Waterhouse floor.

Bowley also agreed with Karytko that the town has likely been inefficient with its labor dollars by using highway workers to lay floors, install insulation and build carpentry projects, among other things, rather than outsource the jobs to contracts who specialize in those jobs.

“I think we should use our road people for roads, our parks people for parks and hire people to paint down at the [Waterhouse] Center,” he said.

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

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