2017-04-14 / Community News

News Briefs

Fireworks notification plan in the works

How Scarborough deals with consumer grade fireworks is still being worked through at the ordinance committee level, but it appears the group may recommend a permit-like system in which residents, and visitors, would have to fill out paperwork before getting the clearance to set off fireworks in town.

If recommended by the ordinance committee and approved by the full town council, fireworks would legally be able to be set off four days a year: July 3, July 4, Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, but only between the hours of 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. and only if a form is filled out alerting the town about the usage.

The form would be available at Scarborough Police Department or one of Scarborough’s six fire stations or online and need to be returned to the station or firehouse. Scarborough’s two fireworks outfitters, Atlas Fireworks on Route 1 and Phantom Fireworks on Payne Road, will help to notify the change, if adopted.

As a part of filling out the form, consumers will have to acknowledge they read the ‘Respect Your Neighbors Consumer Fireworks Guidelines,” which remind people to notify neighbors of fireworks shows, keep fireworks away from livestock and animals and to follow safety instructions.

Since Fire Chief B. Michael Thurlow said he cannot guarantee someone is at the fire station during early morning, evening and night time hours, the notification forms would only be available during regular business hours.

“We would not put staff on to be available, particularly at the fire barns,” Town Manager Tom Hall said at the April 6 ordinance committee meeting.

The committee, which has been looking at consumer fireworks for years after hearing on and off again complaints from residents, had originally thought of using a permit system, but Thurlow, Police Chief Robbie Moulton and Fire Inspector Jim Butler raised concerns about the permit system and the liability of the town if something happened during a fireworks session someone from the town signed off on.

“One of my concerns is if we are issuing permits, are we in any way liable if we are not out inspecting them,” Thurlow said. Butler noted that inspection is a big part of the process to get permits to do large shows such as those at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway or special Community Services events.

Committee member Will Rowan said the town could accomplish the same thing simply using a notification system.

Butler suggested another alternative the town could take is restricting fireworks in certain areas in town, such as by zone or by location relative to the Maine Turnpike that bisects Scarborough. The problem, Hall said, is most people “have no idea” which zone they live in.

Councilor Bill Donovan, who chairs the committee said “if we modified it to be a notification requirement and a notification application, I think administratively, we could deal with (it).”

The final details will be ironed out between now and May 4 when the committee is expected to discuss the topic again.

The notification system may not totally solve this issue.

“The volume of complaints we receive about fireworks far exceed the dates (fireworks) are authorized,” Thurlow said.

According to statistics from the police department, complaints, and warnings issued, have gone down since consumer fireworks first became legal in 2012. That year, police fielded 207 complaints and issued

44 warnings. By 2014 the complaints had dwindled to 104 and the warnings to 24. Last year there were 83 complaints (57 outside of the permitted time) and 15 warnings.

School department to apply for state funds

Several years after seeing a new intermediate school built with local tax dollars, members of the board of education hope funding from the Maine Department of Education’s Major Capital Improvement Program will help to fix physical inefficiencies at Blue Point Primary School, Eight Corners Primary School, Pleasant Hill Primary School and Scarborough Middle School.

Todd Jepson, the school department’s director of buildings, grounds and facilities, was expected to file an application with the state to “right size” the four schools and remove their modular classrooms. Many spaces in those schools are either too small, or ill-suited for the purpose they serve.

The primary schools also, for example, lack distinct and independent spaces for a cafeteria, gymnasium and auditorium. The middle school suffers with overcrowding and poor student circulation.

Doing so was one of the options that came out of the district’s years-long facilities study. Other options considered ranged from doing nothing, to adding on/ improving existing schools, to switching grade levels between schools to constructing a brand new consolidated primary school somewhere on the town campus.

Jepson said building a new school, while recommended by Harriman Principal Architect Dan Cecil – who undertook the on behalf of the board of education, was not a viable option at this time.

“Even though many of the alternative of the facilities plan call for a consolidation, we know the town has funded just recently a very big new school,” Jepson said.

Superintendent Julie Kukenberger said once all the applications are received Department of Education officials will visit the schools to meet with school staff and see the space for themselves and evaluation the need.

That process will continue until year’s end, at which point the Department of Education will begin compiling all the evaluations and by March 2018 begin developing a priority list. The list will be presented by the Commissioner to the State Board of Education in summer 2018.

“We are very hopeful that our very thorough application will get a close look,” Kukenberger said.

This year’s application, Kukenberger said, is “definitely worth our time and effort.” Despite Scarborough applying to the state for funding to fix the four schools, K-2 consolidation may still be an option in the future.

The last time the state offered the funding, in 2010-2011 school year, Wentworth was rated 78th out of 92 projects. Jepson said the Wentworth project would have only just now been receiving funding if voters hadn’t approved it locally in 2011. Board of education member Jackie Perry said she was told twice not to apply for funding from the state to reconstruct Wentworth because “there was not enough money and we never would have made the list.”

“I think it’s great, you went to Augusta and spoke to the people that need to hear from us,” Board vice chairman Jodi Shea said to Jepson and Kukenberger, who went to Augusta to meet with Scott Brown, the board of education’s director of school construction. “I am hopeful.”

Search to fill town vacancies continues

It has been a rough couple of months for staff turnover as three Scarborough department heads have left due to either retirement or to pursue other employment opportunities in neighboring communities.

Town Manager Tom Hall recently hired longtime Wiscasset Parks and Recreation Director Todd Souza to replace Bruce Gullifer, who retired from his post as Community Services Director after close to 35 years. With one position filled, Hall is still working on finding replacements for former assessor Matt Sturgis, now the town manager in Cape Elizabeth and former town planner Dan Bacon, who left last week after a dozen years in the planning department.

The search for another assessor is, in some ways, going back to square one, after the latest round of interviews failed to elevate finalists for the position.

“There was not a candidate that fit,” Hall told members of the town council last week. “I am not surprised. I’ve gone through this a number of times and the candidate pool is always rather shallow.”

It seems, he said, that fewer people are getting involved in the field of municipal assessing and those who are may have been scared away from the Scarborough opportunity due to the 2012 tax revaluation appeals, which is, after being heard by the Maine Supreme Court, is being mitigated right now by the zoning board of appeals.

The town may still opt to contract with another community for assessing, like Scarborough did with Cape Elizabeth when Sturgis worked as the assessor for both communities or opt to have the Cumberland County Regional Assessing Program handle assessing for the town.

Bacon’s position, which is still open for additional applicants through April 24, has, as of last week, yielded eight applicants. Until a new town planner can be hired, Karen Martin, the executive director of the Scarborough Economic Development Corporation, has been tabbed as interim town planner.

Hall said Martin, a planner by trade, is “ideally suited to step into the role” and has worked closely with him and Bacon on a number of planning projects and zoning initiatives. Martin has been SEDCO director since May 2013, after working as the organization’s marketing and communication director for 2.5 years. Martin, who has a master’s of science in community and regional planning from the University of Texas at Austin, worked as Greater Portland Council of Government’s economic development director from 1987 to 2002.

Compiled by Staff Writer Michael Kelley. He can be reached at news@scarbroughleader.com

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