2018-07-06 / Community

Department leaders check in with selectmen

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — With the end of the fiscal year at hand, the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen has been busy entertaining a stream of department heads, each providing updates on their area of expertise.

Selectmen asked to start receiving the semi-annual reports three years ago, citing concern that they were not always as in the loop as most town residents might presume.

Since then, department heads have appeared before the board twice each year to report on “significant accomplishments” within their jurisdictions over the past six months, and to identify “select goals and objectives” on the front burner for completion within the next few months.

In this round of updates, Karen Winton, who serves in the duel role of general assistance director and social media coordinator, spoke on June 12, as did Tasha Pinkham, director of parks and recreation. June 26 brought updates from Town Assessor Daniel Robinson, Police Chief Robert MacKenzie, Town Clerk Merton Brown, and Finance Director Joel Downs, who also is in charge of tax collection and information technologies.

Social media

According to Winton, the town has launched two Instagram accounts, one for the town and one for Town Manager Mike Pardue. Both have “a few hundred followers,” predominantly town residents.

“Instagram is a good way of reaching some of our local residents, it turns out,” Winton said of the photo sharing service.

The town also is on Twitter, also with “a few hundred followers,” with followers less confined to town residents. But the most successful app is Facebook, where the town enjoys an average “reach” of 2,729 people per day, with some posts topping 5,000. The town’s Facebook page has ballooned from 524 followers in January 2017 to its current base of more than 1,900.

Since the new town website launched last year, “close to 1,000” people who have signed up for email notifications on a variety of topics, from receipt of meeting agendas from different town boards and committees to notification of weather-related town hall closings and parking bans. Of all the requested emails, between 40 and 50 percent are opened by the recipients, Winton said.

“That’s actually a good ‘open rate,’”she said, noting the number has climbed about 10 percent following some recent changes made based on analytics data.

The website gets between 3,000 and 5,000 visitors per month, Winton said. The most visited page is the assessing department, for GIS tax mapping and property info, followed by the “news and announcements” section and the page on beach passes.

The top six search terms used by people visiting the website during the past year, Winton said, have been “jobs,” “employment,” “beach passes,” “zoning maps,” “calendar of events and meetings,” and “hotels.”

“So, this gives us a lot of really interesting data,” Winton said. “I view all of these pieces of information as opportunities. We are constantly looking at the website and what the search results are. I put the search terms in myself to see what comes up to make sure its informative and relevant and, if not, we figure out how to address that.”

Additionally, the town has three active blogs, kept by the Town Manager Mike Pardue, Community Market of the Kennebunks (from May to October and In the Know, which contains info on frequently asked questions, current events, and road projects, among other topics.

“I encourage you all to look at these blogs, because it’s a really cool way to connect with staff,” Winton said.

General assistance

During the past winter season, the town made 62 deliveries of emergency heating fuel, with funding from Community Outreach Services, Community Harvest, York County Community Action and the York County Council of Realtors, as well as Kennebunk’s own general assistance program.

“Winter sort of lingered this year, late into April, and there were a lot of families with young children and our seniors, who had exhausted fuel assistance resources, so we were still working with some of those individuals into early spring,” Winton said.

Parks and recreation

Pinkham said the town has offered more than 600 programs during the past year, including 25 in the most recent week.

“We aim for infants to seniors and everything in between,” she said.

Some of those programs have experienced change based on resident reaction, Pinkham said. For example, the town saw little interest in use of the “fat” wide-tire bikes it obtained, so entered into a two-for-one barter with the Biddeford Bike Coalition. In return for loaning its fat bikes to Biddeford, Kennebunk now has 18 hybrid bikes available for use.

The department also is sponsoring 10 summer camps this year.

“Full-time, part-time, we pretty much cover it all,” Pinkham said.

Although the town anticipated $620,000 in revenue from program fees during the 2017-2018 fiscal year, it actually brought in $785,000 as of Pinkham’s report to selectmen.

In all, the rec department saw 7,026 participants from Kennebunk during the past year, as well as 1,866 residents of other nearby towns.

The department will begin offering adult education classes in the fall, having taken over the program from RSU 21. School superintendent Katie Hawes has said that as most adult ed classes tend to be “enrichment” electives, with academic programs such as completing a GED available from other sources, the RSU chose to exit the field.

Pinkham said “20-something” programs are expected to be offered in the new catalog.

“We hope to have closer to 40. So, if anyone has an idea of something they want to teach, please reach out to us,” Pinkham said.

Finally, Pinkham noted that the town has recently obtained a grant for four sunscreen lotion dispenser, each capable of serving 660 people. Two will be placed at the public beaches and two in town parks, she said.

Assessing

Robinson said the state valuation for Kennebunk has increased roughly $200 million, to $2.5 billion, since 2017.

The state number is a reflection of actual property sales over the past two years. Town assessments currently reflect about 82 percent of the state value, he said, indicating that “our values need to be elevated.”

The state revenue service allows municipalities to range between 70 and 120 percent of its calculation.

“Basically, what’s happened in the pickup in the marketplace is showing up in the sales, in relationship to the assessments,” Robinson saying that “in the near future” he will announce plans to amend values in certain neighborhoods to more accurately reflect the current market.

Additionally, the quality rating for local assessments — a measure of the difference in assessments between similar properties — is currently 12 percent.

“IAAO (International Association of Assessing Officers) standards say under 20 (percent) is excellent,” Robinson said.

Asked if he sees home prices leveling off in the future, Robinson said, “We’re not really seeing much of a slowdown.”

“The homes that go on the market really don’t last very long. I think there is still an uptick to what’s happening to the market here,” he said.

Police department

Chief MacKenzie noted a number of initiatives launched in cooperation with RSU 21, including an “active shooter” drill staged earlier this year, as well as the recent hiring of two new school resource officers from in-house, and the launching of that “Say Something” anonymous reporting app created by Sandy Hook Promise, that helps alert officials to potential safety concerns in the schools.

The app is expected to be available for download by the start of the new school year this fall.

Officers Audra Higgins and Jason Mc- Clure will be reassigned to Sea Road Elementary School and Kennebunk Elementary School “once we have appropriate staffing,” MacKenzie said.

Higgins and McClure, as well as Officer Nate Jones, who is stationed at the Middle School of the Kennebunks, and Officer Mark Carney, who works the high school, and two resource officers to be hired by Kennebunkport to cover Kennebunkport Consolidated School and the Mildred L Day Elementary School in Arundel, will attend a National School Resource Officer Training this summer in Oakland. They will also attend a School Resource Officer Summit at Cony High School in August.

MacKenzie reviewed recent education seminars his department has organized focused on the opioid addiction and the heroin epidemic.

Recently, the Kennebunk Police Department was invited to partner with a new volunteer group called Above Board/All Hands on Deck. On Aug. 23, the organization will sponsor a fundraising gala at On the Marsh Bistro in Lower Village, in hopes of raising $25,000 to benefit a recovery program for opioid addicts.

“We need to reduce stigma so we can have conversations about it,” he said. “We’ve had people reach out for us to do additional things in our community. That is telling me that what we are doing is working. It’s going to save lives and, in the long run, save us money, because we are not going to have to arrest and incarcerate as many people.

Over the past year the department as won “about $20,000” in state and federal grants, used to fund special details targeting traffic enforcement for speed, distracted driving, and OUI, and to enforce the legal limit to purchase and possess alcohol.

Meanwhile, the most recent “citizens police academy” graduated seven volunteers, bringing the total of locals who have completed the program to 40, with 25 remaining active volunteers with the department.

MacKenzie said goals for the coming year include obtaining Maine Law Enforcement Accreditation, hiring four new police officers, and then restructuring to create within the department divisions dedicated to traffic control and school resource officer operations, as well as a K-9 dog program.

Town clerk

Brown said that since Jan. 1, his office has issued 604 certified copies of birth, death, and marriage records, 26 marriage licenses (he expects another 100 to be taken out be the end of September), 56 burial permits, 515 dog licenses (capping the 1,700 issues toward the end of 2017) and registrations for 325 boats, 52 snowmobiles, 49 ATVs, plus 241 hunting and fishing licenses, 121 restaurant and lodging licenses and 1,331 beach parking permits. It also registered 250 voters in political parties and mailed 932 absentee ballots.

“The rest of what we do we just kind of fit in, but as you can see, we’re not just twiddling our thumbs,” he said.

According to Brown, 3,481 people voted in the June primary/town meeting referendum, a turnout of 38 percent of registered voters in town. In all, 180 ballots were “spoiled” by voters, he said, “mostly (by people) who were confused by the new ranked choice voting.”

Finance office

Included amongst the “lots of numbers” for fiscal year 2017-2018 revealed by Downs, were the tax collection rate (98 percent of more than 13,000 bills), property taxes collected ($33.6 million), excise taxes collected ($2.46 million on about 12,000 vehicles — that’s $300,000 above projections, but flat with last year), ambulance billing ($840,000 — $40,000 over projections), beach parking permits ($160,000 — down $14,000 from last year but still $10,000 above budget).

Apart from the $150,000 draw from surplus funds to cover a shortfall in the public works budget — due mainly to unanticipated winter storm damage along the coast — most other lines items ended the fiscal year “1 to 2 percent under budget,” Downs said.

On the topic of deficits, Downs said the town’s pay-as-you-throw solid waste program was on track for an $80,000 loss at year’s end.

Meanwhile, the town is earning between 0.35 and 1.25 in interest in its investments.

“I’m going to be looking at some longer term investments this summer,” Downs said, in hopes of scoring higher returns.

The town currently has about $20 million “in the bank,” Downs said, including $5.7 million in recent bond sales borrowed for capital projects. Kennebunk currently has four sets of bonds outstanding, from borrowing in 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2018, for total indebtedness of $13.75 million.

The town still has $2.69 million in voter approved borrowing to remake the public works complex on Sea Road, plus $2.74 million given the green light June 12 for a host of projects. The bonds have yet to be issued. When those bonds are sold, it will push Kennebunk’s total debt to nearly $19.2 million.

However, Downs noted that the state limit on municipal debt is 15 percent of local property values.

“So, we could actually go into debt, legally, $357 million. I don’t recommend it,” he joked.

Information technology

Downs said the town has recently installed a new system to scan emails for computer viruses before they hit the town network. Also, in the works are a new time and attendance system for employees and an automated help desk to better track computer problems, and upgrading of all computer firewalls and security cameras.

Other new projects for the coming year include making new fiber optic connections for the West Kennebunk Fire Station and from Kennebunk to the Sanford Regional Emergency Communications Center, installing a new phone system at the highway garage, replacing the video system used to record and broadcast public meetings, and reprogramming the public WiFi access.

Remaining department heads will deliver their updates at the July 10 select board meeting.

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

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