2016-10-06 / News

Main Street construction continues, funding explained

By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Business owners on Main Street continue to feel the pinch of decreased foot traffic.

“It’s tough,” said Priscille Belanger, owner of La Corseterie, a lingerie store between the intersections of Washington and Adams streets. “But I knew it was coming.”

Construction began the week of Sept. 18; sidewalk pavement has been removed and many parts of the sidewalk are cordoned off, making many store fronts difficult to access. For some businesses, the effect has been dramatic.

“Anywhere from three to 20 people a day would come in here,” said Adam Palmer, who sells his paintings at Dream Weaver Mystic Gallery, between the intersections of Alfred and Washington streets. “And not one person has come in here since it started.”

Still, Palmer is hopeful the improvements will bring increased pedestrian traffic when construction is done, he said.

The sidewalk reconstruction project is proceeding in phases, according to Linda Waters, coordinator of the Community Development Block Grant program. The current phase extends from Alfred Street to Washington Street. The next phase of work is planned to go from Washington Street to Lincoln Street, according to Tom Milligan, Biddeford city engineer.

“The plan, in a very broad sense, is to continue on with what we’re doing until we get to Elm Street,” Milligan said.

The stretch of Main Street up to Lincoln Street is the extent of the project that has definite funding, according to Milligan. That funding will come from Community Development Block Grant in the amount of $294,365; from the TIF (tax increment financing) unallocated account in the amount of $149,635; and from the city’s fund balance in the amount of $281,270, according to an order carried by the Sept. 6 meeting of the city council. The order authorizes a contract “for an amount not to exceed $716,370” with J. Pratt Construction.

The original order proposed took $140,635 from a separate project for Lincoln Street and the same amount from “other road access funds.” According to a Sept. 6 memo by Jim Bennett, Biddeford city manager, the latter money would come from various other projects that are anticipated to finish under budget. Ultimately, however, that was decided against.

“What they said, the couple members of the council that talked about it, was, that, if we have the additional money that’s available on road projects we’d like to be able to put that in and do additional road projects in the community,” Bennett said.

The reallocation of the money from the Lincoln Street project was also decided against, according to the amended order.

To replace the removed funding, the council added $281,270 from the fund balance, which is also referred to as “undesignated surplus.”

“The undesignated fund balance is what the city has that is essentially in reserve, or, some people refer to it as the savings account for the city,” Bennett said.

According to Bennett, the fund balance is filled from a combination of city spending that ended up under budget and city revenue that was greater than expected.

“Last year we ended the year with a million and a half dollars’ worth of operational surplus,” Bennett said. “That means from operations last year we had authority to spend another million and a half dollars and/or we collected revenues in excess of what we projected.”

Bennett said using the fund balance essentially means the city borrows from itself, to be paid back by surpluses from future budgets.

Aside from the project being partitioned by construction phases and by iterations of funding, it is also partitioned by iterations of approval from Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a federal entity, funded by Congress, which provides partial funding for projects like the current one. The HUD funding comes via the Community Development Block Grant program. The meaning of HUD approval, often termed “clearing,” according to Milligan, is that a project area is evaluated for environmental concerns and historic importance.

While the project is funded up to Lincoln Street, the partition of Main Street starting at Washington Street and going all the way up to Elm Street is still awaiting HUD approval. That, said Milligan, is why construction between Washington and Lincoln has not started yet.

A separate construction project is planned for Main Street immediately following the construction up to Lincoln Street, said Milligan. A layer of pavement will be replaced. That project, however, is being administered by Maine Department of Transportation and is expected to start next spring or summer.

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

Return to top