2012-12-14 / Community News

Council looks back at 2012 initiatives

Workshop planned for new round of goal-setting
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

With the new year weeks away, the Scarborough Town Council spent some time last week reviewing the progress town officials made on a series of council goals laid out in the beginning of 2012.

“Overall I think we did pretty darn good,” said Town Council Chairman Ron Ahlquist.

Town Manager Tom Hall said the exercise of laying out goals is a helpful way to give him and his staff some direction over the course of the year.

“Staff likes to hear what’s on your mind, and to the extent we can, we like to meet those goals,” he told the councilors at the end of the workshop session Wednesday, Dec. 5.

Late last year the council developed a series of nine goals to work on in 2012, including adopting a realistic budget; considering alternative service delivery systems; reviewing committee structure and process; inventorying town-owned properties; reviewing the approach to economic development; reviewing business ordinances; exploring public transit; implementing the Oak Hill Pedestrian Study; evaluating capital planning process and emphasizing historic preservation.

Ahlquist, who was recently elected by his peers to serve as council chairman for another year, said he would like to hold a special workshop within the next few weeks to address council goals for 2013.

In the first goal of 2012, the council aimed to flat-fund appropriations, limit the tax rate to no more than the consumer price index of 3.6 percent, maintain essential services and infrastructure and avoid layoffs if possible.

Hall said the town was not able to flatfund appropriations or keep the tax rate increase to no more than 3.6 percent like it was hoped. Town appropriations, he noted, increased 1.83 percent and school spending increased 4.92 percent. The actual increase to the tax rate was 5.91 percent.

“Clearly we did not meet that goal,” he said, adding, “We fell short on the tax-related goal, but I think there was some value in the relationship-building (between town leaders and education officials).”

Ahlquist said even though the budget was “above what we wanted,” the town was able to meet part of the goal by maintaining essential services and infrastructure and avoiding layoffs.

The town had mixed success in meeting the second goal of examining alternative service delivery models. The hope in that regard was to find cost savings by looking at the possibility of consolidating positions or departments, collaborating better with the Scarborough School Department or even regional organizations.

One such opportunity that was reviewed, Hall said, was the consolidation of emergency dispatch services with the Cumberland County Regional Dispatch.

“There was an honest discussion and serious review that involved the police and fire departments,” Hall said.

The Finance Committee, chaired by Town Councilor Judy Roy, however, ended up deciding not to pursue the consolidation.

Roy said the decision was made because county dispatch “wasn’t really ready to take it on” and it proved to not be as cost effective as originally envisioned.

“It was really the wrong time,” she said, “because of their availability and ability to meet our needs.”

The town was able to renew the shared services model for information technology by having the information technology department oversee the technological needs of both the town and the school department.

In terms of the third goal, the council, Hall said, made “tremendous strides” in reducing the number of committees in town by eliminating those that were no longer necessary.

Councilor Richard Sullivan said a better job could have been done to make sure all committees and boards were properly publicizing the work they are accomplishing by alerting the council – or at least council liaisons – of their meeting minutes and progress reports.

“It’s hard to keep track of things unless we see something,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan also thought more work could have been done on inventorying townowned properties to determine the percentage of the tax base it represents.

“There are a lot of properties that are not useful to the town,” Sullivan said in reference to some of the tax-acquired properties owned by the town. “We might as well liquidate them. They may enhance a neighbor who may want to buy the property.”

One goal the town made good progress on, Hall said, was the re-examination of economic development and the structuring of the Scarborough Economic Development Corporation.

As part of the budget passed in May, SEDCO was moved to vacant space in town hall and its executive director position was changed to part time. This resulted in a 24 percent savings to the town.

Hall said this approach has helped create a better relationship between his office and SEDCO.

“From my perspective, it’s proved to be a great value,” Hall said. “I am right across the hall and I have daily contact and interaction (with them).”

Hall said progress was also made in reviewing the town’s business-related ordinances and fees. The ordinance committee, he said, looked “cover to cover” at the schedule of fees, many of which were modified at the council level.

Zoning along Haigis Parkway was also changed, Hall pointed out, to allow for other business, commercial and industrial use, with the hopes of developing the roadway that connects Route 1 and the Maine Turnpike.

“I think there was some good progress, but there is probably some more to do,” Hall said of the business-related ordinance review.

Sullivan agreed with Hall.

“I would have liked to see more done. We kind of stalled out at the end,” said Sullivan, a member of the ordinance committee in 2012, who will be chairing the group in 2013.

Progress was also made, Hall told the councilors, on exploring public transit and implementing the Oak Hill Pedestrian Study. For the first time, Scarborough allocated $25,000 to the Biddeford- Saco-Old Orchard Beach bus system. Additionally bus stop locations on Route 1 now have signs and a bus stop has been incorporated into the designs of the improved Dunstan Corner intersection.

A number of the recommendations from the Oak Hill Pedestrian Study have been looked at, including additional sidewalks and crosswalks along Gorham Road between Route 1 and Sawyer Road; new sidewalks along Black Point Road toward Eastern Road and a signalized crosswalk at Eastern Trail crossing Black Point Road.

The town has also required pedestrianfriendly designs be incorporated into planned construction projects at Centervale Farm and McDonald’s on Route 1, Wegman Assisted Living Facility on Black Point Road and the new Wentworth Intermediate School.

Hall said while there was some progress in evaluating the capital planning process and equipment replacement schedule, there has been none made on identifying historic buildings and properties in town.

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