2015-04-03 / Community News

Town awaiting word on sewer extension funds

Line would service new subdivision along Broadturn Road
By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

Later this spring the town of Scarborough will find out if it was awarded a $119,000 Community Development Block Grant to extend the sewer along Broadturn Road to service the forthcoming Habitat for Humanity affordable housing project between Saratoga Lane and the Maine Turnpike.

The project, the first of its kind in Scarborough, will include 13 housing units, including eight that will be built in the traditional Habitat for Humanity style in which homeowners volunteer to build other units before they can move into theirs.

It would be the third Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) the town has received for the affordable housing project. CDBG is a grant program funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In 2011, Scarborough received a $10,000 grant to plan for the project on town-owned land purchased from the Maine Turnpike Authority in 2006. The following year, Scarborough received an $80,000 grant for sewer line extension, but that only funded a portion of the extension costs.

The affordable housing project is but one of the initiatives the county government has supported through its CDBG program.

County Commissioner Neil Jamieson, who represents Scarborough, Gorham, Standish, Baldwin, Sebago, Bridgton and Harrison, said since 2007, when the program was started in Cumberland County, Scarborough has received $400,000 in CDBG funding.

“This is one of the areas of collaboration between county government and Scarborough that has helped the individual taxpayer,” said Jamieson, who lives in Scarborough.

In 2009, Scarborough received an $85,000 grant to complete road, sidewalk and stormwater drainage improvements between the Pine Point Road/East Grand Avenue intersection and the Pine Point Fire Station on King Street. Between 2007 and 2014, Scarborough was awarded a little more than $26,150 for a housing rehabilitation program administered by The Opportunity Alliance. Six home repair and heating system replacements were funded as a result. Also during that time, through a $16,772 CDBG grant, three Scarborough homes were outfitted with access ramps to help residents with mobility issues.

Four home rehabilitation projects were completed between 2011 and 2013, thanks to $56,615 in funding from HUD’s HOME program, which is administered by the city of Portland. Although the names of clients are kept confidential, a CDBG funded program for domestic abuse prevention, Jamieson said, has aided some Scarborough residents. The program, a joint venture between Family Crisis Service and local police departments, has handed out $200,000 to more than 1,000 clients.

The grants, Jamieson said, “filled holes in (Scarborough’s) budget or provided for projects that may not have happened otherwise.”

Town Manager Tom Hall said Scarborough has been “aggressive” in pursuing CDBG and other grants, which are handed out through a competitive process.

Grants are not the only way the county government helps local municipalities, Cumberland County Manager Peter Crichton told members of the Town Council Finance Committee March 25. Although Scarborough has its own police force, the county, through the Sheriff’s Office, provides policing services for 15 of the 28 communities in Cumberland County, including Standish, a town with more than 10,000 residents. The County’s Regional Communication Center, located in Windham, provides 911 and dispatch calls for 19 communities. The District Attorney’s Office, led by Stephanie Anderson, handles 12,000 to 15,000 cases a year and the Registry of Deeds handles 75,000 to 100,000 real estate transactions annually.

The Cumberland County Probate Court attends to the many legal and social welfare needs of county residents, including adoption and state proceedings.

The county also provides assessing services for the communities of Cumberland, Yarmouth and Falmouth. Scarborough had looked at joining that list, but may instead partner with Cape Elizabeth for assessing services to fill the void left by former assessor William Healey when he left the post earlier this year.

The costs of those services, plus the cost of running the Cumberland County Jail and the other services offered on a regional basis, are paid for through local taxpayers.

“County governments are set up to spread the cost across the county,” Crichton said.

The county budget, unlike the town budget, operates on a calendar year as opposed to a fiscal year. The $42 million county budget, of which $26.7 million is supported through tax dollars, runs through Dec. 31, 2015. Close to half that total, or $19 million, is used to fund the jail.

Crichton said how jails across the state – including Cumberland County Jail – are funded could soon change.

“The Board of Corrections was created in 2008 and has been funding the increased costs of running the jails across the state up to this point of time,” Crichton said. “Right now Gov. LePage and the legislature is considering going back to the prior system when we assessed the municipalities for the increased costs.”

That, Crichton said, could have big budget implications.

“The worst case scenario would be that $4.2 million in costs would be shifted from the state to the municipalities,” he said.

Crichton said he anticipates a smaller tax increase for 2016 than the 5.35 percent communities saw for 2015, but that depends on what happens with county jail funding.

“The wildcard for us is the jail, and for you guys as well,” Crichton said.

Work on the 2016 budget, which begins in January and will be voted upon in November, is underway right now.

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