2017-05-05 / Front Page

Board charged up over electricity

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — They say if you build it, they will come. But sometimes, if they come, you need to build it.

That was the conundrum before Kennebunk selectmen at their April 11 meeting. The town began offering double spaces to food vendors at the Waterhouse Center, which allowed food trucks, as well as smaller food carts, to come in. But the two trucks which took the double spots require 60 amp electrical service and the center is only wired with four 20 amp connections, and one that provides 30 amps.

According to town code enforcement officer Paul Demers, the town electrician, Jim Nichols, has said he can wire in four 60 amp risers and set them up so each has its own account with Kennebunk Light and Power, for about $2,500 in parts and labor.

Demers said digging the trenches to lay conduit, whether done by town crews or contracted out, will cost an additional $2,500. Town Manager Michael Pardue said the total $5,000 bill can come out of the town’s downtown TIF (tax increment financing) fund, as a qualifying infrastructure project.

However, some selectmen felt the food vendors, and not the town, should pay for the upgrade to the center’s electrical system.

“Speaking as a business owner, I would have loved for someone to have paid for my tenant improvements as I was moving into Shopper’s Village,” said Selectman Blake Baldwin, owner of Video Creations. “It seems to me that the increased power that is required is, in essence, a tenant improvement. If not, then I question the $83 a month in rent we are charging these folks to run their business. Somewhere, somebody’s getting a pretty sweetheart deal here.”

The rent mentioned by Baldwin is the $1,000 permit fee for two side-by-side Waterhouse sites, divided over 12 months.

“I’ve supported the Waterhouse Center and have done everything I can to make the downtown vibrant, but this is a bridge too far, even for me,” Baldwin said. “I think every business in town would be offended that they have had to come up with their own capital to get their businesses running and we are, in essence, subsidizing these trucks.”

“If somebody is there for a year and decides it isn’t profitable, then, unless somebody else moves in, these 60 amp units just sit there,” Selectman Ed Karytko agreed.

“The flip side of this is that without these improvements, these two trucks go away,” board Chairman Dick Morin said.

Selectman Deborah Beal noted that when the Waterhouse Center was originally conceived, the electricity hook-ups were expected to power vendors at craft fairs and the farmers market.

The idea of food trucks came along after the fact, she said, by which time selectmen had agreed no generators should be allowed, due to noise concerns.

Meanwhile, although he favored new wiring electrical outlets to individual meters, Selectman Christopher Cluff said former Town Manager Barry Tibbetts had always said electricity would be provided to food vendors as a part of the service provided with their permit to set up shop at the open-air Waterhouse Center.

Still, while a majority of the board seemed in favor of installing the new service and individual metering, none was willing to make a motion to pay for the work with TIF funds.

“In fairness to the vendors, they have a permit at this point, so they need direction on whether they can come in and have the proper power to do what the need to do, or if they should look elsewhere,” Pardue said.

Beal seemed to be the only selectmen in favor of the town paying to upgrade the electrical service.

“They’ve already agreed to pay the fee thinking they were going to be able to hook up and be ready to go,” she said.

“And shame on them for not doing their research about where they were going in first,” Cluff replied.

“But we’re the ones who have said we don’t want generators there.” Beal countered. “We own the Waterhouse Center and if we don’t do this and the people who are there move out, then we are not going to be able to attract the same size or caliber of vendor as what’s there now.”

In the end, selectmen agreed to table the vote, asking that Demers check with the vendors to see how open each might be to chipping in for the cost of installing their own upgraded power hook-ups.

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

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