2016-09-23 / Front Page

Arundel residents weigh in at hearing

Added police patrols, new town hall location are backed
By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

York County Sheriff William King Jr. makes a presentation to about Arundel residents at a special public hearing held Monday, Sept. 19, in the library of the Mildred L. Day Elementary School, on the possibility of the town hiring a second contract deputy to patrol town. (Duke Harrington photo) York County Sheriff William King Jr. makes a presentation to about Arundel residents at a special public hearing held Monday, Sept. 19, in the library of the Mildred L. Day Elementary School, on the possibility of the town hiring a second contract deputy to patrol town. (Duke Harrington photo) ARUNDEL — Although the turnout at a special public hearing in Arundel Monday was a tiny fraction of the town’s total registered voters, selectmen say feedback from the session has given them “clear direction” on two future spending projects.

About 50 people spent more than three hours in the library of the Mildred L. Day Elementary School, September 19, debating whether to hire a second contract deputy from the York County Sheriff’s Office to patrol town, and the relative merits of three possible locations for a new town hall.

In the end, only six residents raised hands against the idea of bringing in a second deputy, while most residents seemed to favor a Limerick Road building site over two possible plots of land along Route 1 for the town hall.

Limerick Road property owner Steve Emerson makes an argument before about 50 Arundel residents at a special public hearing held Monday, September 19, in the library of the Mildred L. Day Elementary School on why the 4-acre lot he is offering to the town would make the best of three possible new locations for town hall. (Duke Harrington photo) Limerick Road property owner Steve Emerson makes an argument before about 50 Arundel residents at a special public hearing held Monday, September 19, in the library of the Mildred L. Day Elementary School on why the 4-acre lot he is offering to the town would make the best of three possible new locations for town hall. (Duke Harrington photo) “I think we have a very definitive answer that people in this town are in favor of looking into further study of more police protection,” selectboard chairman Velma Jones Hayes said, during a break between discussion topics.

Although selectmen have issued repeated calls for public input since the need for a second deputy was broached at the annual town meeting in June, emails and calls on the topic have been “very few,” Town Manager Keith Trefethen said.

“This was the first time we’ve had this many people discussing it in one place and giving us their opinion,” Jones Hayes said. But after Monday, selectmen now have a “clear direction,” on how to approach budget deliberations next spring, when the time comes to hammer out a spending plan for the 2018 fiscal year, she said.

According to York County Sheriff William King Jr., adding a second deputy would cost Arundel between $82,782 and $99,240, depending on the experience of the deputy selected for the patrol and the health insurance coverage that is chosen.

The town also would need to purchase a new cruiser for the deputy, likely a 2017 Ford Interceptor SUV, fully equipped for police work, at a cost of about $33,750.

However, while most in the audience favored doubling the number of hours the Sheriffs’ Department dedicates exclusively to work in Arundel — two deputies working opposite 40-hour shifts would mean a police presence somewhere in town for 48 percent of the total hours in each week — some urged selectmen to look into even greater coverage.

“I’m in favor of getting more options,” Linda Zuke said. “With all due respect to the York County Sheriff’s Department, I just think we need something more. Even 80 hours per week isn’t going to cut it.”

Zuke pushed the possibility of Arundel teaming with Kennebunk and/or Kennebunkport, among other options, to create a greater police presence in town. Jones Hayes did leave the door open to explore those options.

Trefethen didn’t bring it up at Monday’s meeting, but he did reach out to both Kennebunk and Kennebunkport this past spring, doing what he deemed his “due diligence,” before signing a deal to renew Arundel’s $80,000 contract with the Sheriff’s Department.

In the end, he re-upped for exclusive coverage by Deputy Greg Sevigny, contingent on town meeting approval of a new contract $80,000 — which this year included the additional outlay of $33,000 to replace Sevigny’s old vehicle, a 2012 cruiser with more than 100,000 miles.

Trefethen said offers made by both town police departments essentially amounted to Arundel establishing its own police force under the auspices of its neighbor. That, he said, was “cost prohibitive.”

At Monday’s meeting, Trefethen said buying a second cruiser would probably add about 8 cents to next year’s mil rate, while a second deputy at the wheel would add between 20 and 24 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

A little bit of quick back-of-the-napkin math by Selectman Dan Dubois put that in practical terms. Adding a second deputy would likely add between $56 and $64 dollars per year to the tax bill on a $200,000 home, he said.

In his presentation, Sheriff King predicted a future need for police coverage in Arundel.

“It’s very clear to us that as Arundel keeps growing, and as we fill those seasonal homes on Route 1, we are going to have a lot more calls for service,” he said.

King referred to Route 111 through town as a “raceway” in need of speed enforcement. However, members of the audience piped up to say that particular problem persists on almost all roads in town.

King said the town gets a host of additional services along with its contracted deputy, but even just running radar, “an active traffic unit does a lot to stop burglaries,” he said, pointing to the benefit of a visible, ongoing presence. That, he said, can be an important deterrent, helping to keep the bad guys from viewing Arundel as a safe haven for drug houses, or homes there as easy targets to fund drug habits.

“The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of drugs in Biddeford. There’s no other way to put it,” King said. “They have 50 police officers and make a lot of drug arrests and our fear is that some of that crime is going to get pushed over [into Arundel].”

Not everyone bought that line of reasoning, with one person chiming in to say the burgeoning drug crisis is a statewide epidemic.

“Actually, Biddeford is cleaning up and turning into a real nice town,” Charles Watson said. “A second deputy in town, doing traffic stops, or just circling the town, isn’t going to stop anyone from using heroin. So, I just don’t see the point of a second deputy.”

King countered by saying his department is woefully understaffed.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, he said, a police force should have 1.7 officers for every 1,000 residents in its coverage area. The Sheriff’s Department is responsible for 14 towns in York County that do not have police departments of their own. It has an agreement with Maine State Police to cover five of those municipalities.

Still, according to the DOJ standards, his department should have 86 patrol officers, King said. Instead, he makes due with 14 patrol deputies and five sergeants.

For that reason, when Arundel and other towns pay to base one or more deputies on patrol within their boundary lines, it actually helps to widen the net of police protection across York County, King said.

Town hall move

While Jones Hayes called a straw poll on added police protection, she did not do so on the town hall question. By the time debate on that topic wound down, the crowd had thinned to fewer than 30 people.

But even before that, a desired direction was “less clear,” she said, than with the policing proposal. Jones Hayes said she personally felt the overall mood of the meeting was clearly in favor of the Limerick Road location, over the locations on Route 1.

“It sounds to me as if the leaning is toward that site, not only because of the location but because of the possibilities for future use. That’s what I got out of tonight,” she said, after the meeting.

Nearly three years ago, the town set up an ad hoc committee to design a new town hall. The current municipal office was built in the late 1800s as a public gathering spot then known as Parvo Hall. The building is overcrowded, and not just by people.

“When I have to go down into the basement, I flick the lights first and make noise to scare the mice away,” Town Clerk Simone Boissonneault said.

There’s also limited parking, moisture problems in the town vault, no easy way to add handicapped accessibility to the second floor, and according to Jones Hayes, a growing mold issue.

That old committee came up with plans for an 8,000-squarefoot office building the town still has in hand, along with about $300,000 in reserve to seed a construction fund. But the new building is estimated to cost $1.6 million. According to Will Conway, vice president and landscape architect with South Portland engineering firm Sebago Technics, development costs at the two primary possibilities, located on Limerick Road and near 1389 Portland Road, are nearly identical.

The Route 1 site includes 10 acres owned by the town, most of which is said to be unbuildable due to wetlands and ledge, along with one acre that would be donated by an abutting landowner. It would cost $816,259 to prepare for a building, Conway said. The Limerick Road property is cheaper to build, at $610, 052, but the 4-acre lot, part of a larger 36-acre field owned by Steve and Margo Emerson, is expected to cost $200,000.

“We haven’t really nailed that down yet,” Trefethen said.

Emerson said he’d prefer to sell the entire lot to the town, or to a conservation group.

“I’d like that land to stay just as it is,” he said, raising the spectre of eventually having to sell it to a housing developer if it becomes too expensive to maintain.

There was talk of creating an Arundel Conservation Trust to buy and manage the lot, given that, with additional purchases or easements from abutting landowners, the property would have access to both the Eastern Trail and Kennebunk River.

Leia Lowery, who works as director of education at the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, said that based on her experience, preservation of the entire Emerson field should be a priority.

“This town has said it wants to stay and remain a rural community,” she said, ticking off the number of large lots that have gone on the market in Arundel in recent years. “There’s no way to do that unless we start taking some action to create a community effort to come together and decide how we want to grow our community.

“We don’t all agree on taxes,” she said. “We don’t all agree about schools. But, by God, people in this town have shown that they do agree on loving the land. That is something that connects every single one of us. If we have an opportunity to create something in this town that can bring us all together, and it can piggyback on this beautiful piece of property, we should take it. We have a lot of land out there that is going to be eaten up in development, because right now, when I drive from my home to work, I see more land and more neighborhoods for sale than I have since I’ve lived here. We are probably in a five-year window right now of huge growth. We can either sit back and let that define us, or we can define ourselves and what we want.”

Lowery and others presented a vision of trails with access other recreational amenities, along with playgrounds for younger children.

Jean Hull suggested the purchase price of the Limerick Road property could be brought down by selling off the 10-acre Route 1 lot for business development, while Sam Hull repeated Lowery’s call for a spot near the fire station and elementary school that could become a focal point and creating an identity the town now lacks.

“When someone punches ‘Arundel’ into Google, you want it to know where to send them,”

“It knows where to go now,” one person catcalled from the crowd — “Bentley’s.”

That drew a pool of laughter from the audience, but tempers soon overflowed with one person, Diane Robbins, storming out of the hearing when she felt cut off and interrupted.

Of the remaining crowd, there was sharp division, with some saying a new town hall should go on Route 1, as a potential magnet to help lure businesses, while others said Route 1 development should be reserved for businesses, not municipal services, with town hall eating up land that could contribute greatly to the tax rolls with the right business in place.

“I believe if town hall was there, it would open up the area and make it more attractive for business to go in to,” planning board chairman Richard Ganong said.

Others countered that the Limerick Road site was too far off the beaten path, leaving some to note its proximity to the geographic center of town, leading to a long discourse on light pollution.

Trefethen said a third option, a 6.5-acre lot at the corner of Route 1 and River Road, offered at the 11th hour by property owner James Faulkner, would cost in the neighborhood of $250,000 to buy. Faulkner has already surveyed wetlands that would need to be built around, Trefethen said, and an aerial photo of the land was displayed with an area marked out where town hall might go. However, site development costs were unclear.

“I only found out about this option five minutes ago,” Conway said.

Most in the audience seemed to agree with the need to replace the current municipal offices, deemed “a dump” by one resident. However, there were a few naysayers, who felt the very idea of spending nearly $2.5 million on a new town hall is too much to take, given the school construction bonds that will come due over the next few years.

“That school budget is going to take up a big part of our taxes in the coming years, and now were talking about all this money for a new town office, and hiring more sheriff’s deputies, and another car, too. Holy mackerel,” Joanne DeWitt said. “Somebody’s got deep pockets, but I don’t have them. Where do you people think all this money is coming from? You selectmen are spending money we don’t have. We’re going to have to sell our house and move out of town.

“Leave the town hall where it is and fix it up and let’s forget about spending all this money,” DeWitt said. “Let’s see what the school department is going to do to us over the next three years. They we can talk about a new town hall. But for right now we’re getting along just fine with what we have.”

No firm figures were presented on the potential tax impact of borrowing to build a new town hall. However, Boissonneault said annual payments on Arundel’s share of RSU 21’s $56.5 million school renovation bond would by decreasing — the fees being front-loaded with interest — about the time any town hall bond hit the books. That, she said, meant the impact on taxpayers would be “minimal.”

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

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