2016-09-30 / Front Page

Arundel selectmen clarify town hall/patrol stance

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

ARUNDEL — Arundel selectmen have clarified the charge they feel they were given at a pair of public hearings held Sept. 19 on moving town hall and hiring a second sheriff’s deputy to patrol town.

At their regular business meeting Sept. 26, selectmen said they intend to make an extended contract with the York County Sheriff’s Office, which would include buying a new cruiser for the additional deputy, a part of annual budget deliberations to start this spring.

“We’ll send this on to the budget board,” said Velma Hayes, chairman of the board of selectmen.

Hayes also said selectmen have more or less settled on the Limerick Road site over two potential spots on Route 1, as the best place to build a new 8,000-squarefoot town hall.

Based on additional public feedback at Monday’s meeting, the board agreed to have Town Manager Keith Trefethen reach out to the Biddeford Police Department to see what it might offer in terms of service and cost for extending its patrols into Arundel.

They also announced an intent to draft a justification for not repairing or rebuilding the current town hall on its existing footprint before entering more formal talks to purchase a 4-acre lot on Limerick Road owned by Steve and Margo Emerson. The selling price of that land has been pegged at $200,000.

“I’m just trying to get a sense of where do you think we should put our eggs,” Trefethen told selectmen.

“I think we need to get a pretty clear picture of why the existing site is inadequate,” Selectman Thomas Danylik said. “People have said we have $300,000. Why don’t we use that to fix up what we have. I think we need to let them know this isn’t going to work.”

The $300,000 is money previously set aside in a reserve account for a new town hall. Selectmen have plans in hand, developed by an ad hoc committee more than three years ago, for a new 8,000-square-foot office building expected 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 — one located on Limerick Road, the other a 10-acre parcel already owned by the town near 1389 Portland Road — are nearly identical, at about $815,000, each, when adding in the $200,000 presumed purchase price of the Limerick Road lot.

A third option, a 6.5-acre lot owned by James Faulkner, at the corner of Route 1 and River Road, was offered just before the Sept. 19 public hearing. It would reportedly cost in the neighborhood of $250,000 to buy. Conway said he has not yet calculated site preparation costs.

“That site is a great commercial site and I would hate to see us take a good commercial property, which Arundel doesn’t have much of on Route 1, and take it out of the tax rolls,” Hayes said. “I think that site ought to be dropped from consideration.

No one on the selectboard, or in the audience, spoke up to disagree.

However, one person in the crowd of about 25 extended Hayes’ logic to the other Route 1 site, suggesting the town should sell it for commercial development and focus on the Limerick Route property.

“My guess is that would go to house lots,” Donna der Kinderen said, referring to the full 36-acres field no Limerick Road, which could go on the market.

A number of residents have said the town should buy entire property, not just the four acres it is looking at, and then set up a conservation easement on any area not taken up by the new town hall. With easements granted by abutting property owners, one of whom is Selectman Phil Labbe, the public would have access from town hall to the Eastern Trail and/or the Kennebunk River, the argument goes.

If the field fills up with homes, “that in turn would have an economic impact in terms of kids in schools and all of that,” der Kinderen said, noting that more students means more school staff and a larger education budget, which could offset the increased tax assessment on the new homes.

“It’s a net tax loss,” she said. “If at the same time we take a piece of commercial property and put it to a municipal use, we have lost twice with one decision.”

However, planning board chairman Richard Ganong said the $50,000 per acre cost of the Limerick Road lot is far above what the land is worth.

“I don’t think that’s financially or fiscally responsible when two years ago land across the street sold for $12,500 an acre. I don’t see a 400 percent increase in two years,” he said.

At the Sept. 19 hearing, Ganong stumped for either of the Route 1 sites over Limerick Road, saying that putting town hall on the main drag through town would help draw people, and thus businesses to the commercial strip.

“I believe if town hall was there, it would open up the area and make it more attractive for business to go in to,” he said at the time.

Meanwhile, others supported the Limerick Road property. Sam Hull said a group of town residents have entered into talks with the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust (KCT). Under a scenario currently under consideration, Hull said, a new Arundel land trust group would be established under the auspices of KCT to buy the balance of the Emerson property not used for town hall.

“It’s been discussed by their board,” Hull said. “We would not try to establish our own 510c 3 [nonprofit] out of whole cloth, but would come in under them. We would in turn demand a say in the governance of their operations, either through a seat on their board, or whatever.

“Of course, the fundraising [to but the Emerson land] would have to come from us,” Hull said. “That’s always the hard part. But at least would not be starting from scratch.”

“Well, I think that’s where we’re going anyway,” Hayes said

Trefethen said he would talk to the Emersons to try and mail down a purchase price for the Limerick Road property, in varying configurations, and report back to selectmen.

Police patrols

Trefethen did reach out to police departments in both Kennebunk and Kennebunkport this past spring before finalizing a new contract with the York County Sheriff’s Office to retain a deputy to patrol Arundel exclusively for 40 hours per week.

Trefethen has said offers made by both towns essentially amounted to Arundel establishing its own police force which it would manage. That, Trefethel said, was “cost prohibitive.” At the annual town meeting in June, some residents expressed concern over crime in town, and suggested the time had come to hire a second deputy.

At Mondays meeting, Selectman Jason Nadeau said he’d prefer that option to any that included hiring police patrols from any other department in addition to the newly contracted Sheriff’s deputy.

“We’ve tried sharing before, when it was the sheriff and state police swapping one week on and one week off, and that showed some signs of confusion with dispatch,” he said. “I’m just afraid if we tried to hire Kennebunk or Kennebunkport to work with the county [sheriff’s office], that from a collaborative standpoint, from EMS and fire [departments] trying to work with police, it would just be a nightmare.”

“If somebody calls 9-1-1 and we have one [sheriff’s] deputy that we’re sharing with coverage by Kennebunk of Kennebunkport [police], how does the dispatcher know who to call,” Selectman Dan Dubois asked.

“That’s something that, logistically, we would have to set it up,” Trefethen said. “It definitely would be a nightmare.”

However, because Arundel is dispatched through Biddeford, Selectman Phil Labbe suggested that might a cost effective option.

“Biddeford patrols Route 111 extremely heavily to the town line, and it’s only four more miles from there to the end of Arundel,” he said. “He could contract with them to just take cake of [Route] 111. That would relieve our deputy of a pretty significant amount of time.”

Labbe said he’s often seen Biddeford PD with cars pulled over in Arundel for speeding on the Biddeford side of the line.

“They’re there anyway, and they’d be dispatching their own people. So, to me, that doesn’t seem very confusing,” he said.

“Sharing police with different communities is always a turf issue,” Danylik said, expressing the least among of interest among board members in pursuing added patrols at all.

“I didn’t see overwhelming support for hiring more police,” he said.

About 50 people attended the Sept. 19 public hearing. A little more than half the that crowd raised their hands when asked if they supported hiring a second sheriff’s deputy at a cost of between $82,782 and $99,240, along with spending more than $33,000 on a new cruiser. Only six raised hands to say they do not support added police patrols at any cost, from any department.

Threfethel said he’d put out feelers to Biddeford PD and report back to selectmen before presenting his budget proposal for fiscal year 2018.

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. Still, 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 now, 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 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 handicap 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-square-foot office building the town still has in hand, along with about $300,000 in reserve to seed a construction kitty. 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 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’s prefer to sell the entire lot to the town, or to some 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 for him 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 the 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 on 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 it 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 fiveyear window right now of huge growth. We can either sit back and that 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 bought 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 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 crowed, 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 the new 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 — and 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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