2017-05-12 / Community News

Voters will decide fueling station funding

DEP: 30-year-old underground tanks need to be replaced by 2018
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Although the town council already approved the replacement of fueling stations at the Public Works Department in the fiscal 2017 year budget and approved a preliminary bond order for the $687,480 project last month, how the project gets funded will be up to voters.

The town council had initially approved issuing the bond for the project at first reading April 19, but after a resident questioned the legality of doing so, Town Manager Tom Hall reviewed the town charter and after consulting with town attorney and bond counsel, recommended pulling the project from bonding.

The town charter states any single capital item bond request of more than $400,000 must be approved by voters, except in certain circumstances, one exception being “any construction or financing of improvements or equipment needed as a result of fire, flood, disaster, or other declared emergency.”

Since that didn’t quite fit and after fielding concern about approving it without voter input from the town’s bond counsel, the council, following a finance committee recommendation, decided to put it out to voters.

In a memorandum to councilors, Hall said bond counsel had indicated “potential investors may be uninterested in buying the bonds, the interest rates may be higher, and/or it may have a negative effect on our borrowing.”

Hall said not bringing it for a referendum vote sooner was a mistake that wasn’t caught by town staff or members of the council until a member of the public brought it to the town’s attention.

Larry Hartwell, of Puritan Drive, said placing the item on the June 13 ballot is “the right thing to do.”

“I see it as an honest mistake. Our manager and staff have a thousand things to do, so it just slipped through,” Hartwell said.

Councilor Chris Caiazzo has a somewhat different view of the situation.

“I don’t see this as a mistake at all. When I voted for this the first time. I thought we were within our purview to issue something like this,” he said.

Council Chairman Shawn Babine agreed, saying he thought it was within the council’s power to include the fuel station item in the fiscal 2017 bond approval, but because of the bond counsel’s concern, felt putting it on the ballot was the appropriate approach.

“This is not the time to take on an increased level of risk,” Babine said of the prospect of higher interest rates or hit to the town’s bond rating as a result, especially with the big facility projects that may come up down the line, including the new public safety building, being planned now, or future school or municipal building needs.

The Department of Environmental Protection mandated Scarborough replace the 30-year-old underground fuel tanks by 2018. As part of the project, the new fuel station would shift from the school bus area on Manson Libby Road to the Public Works facility on Washington Avenue.

Should voters not approve funding the project at the polls, Hall said he and the town council will have to find a way to pay for the project – most likely through the town’s reserve account.

“We have no alternative. There is no pushing it off. We are under a DEP mandate and a threat of fines or penalties,” Hall said at the town council finance committee meeting Monday, May 1.

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

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