2018-02-22 / News

Bonds approved in Saco, work to begin soon

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

SACO – Residents passed all three bond questions in the November 2017 referendum and now the city has begun to finance and plan for all 10 projects included in those bonds.

The total combined cost of the projects is $11.75 million. The city decided to borrow money to pay for the work to avoid an increase in taxes for residents and because the city has favorable credit ratings. The city hopes to begin work on Camp Ellis, Lincoln Street and the Foss Road Recreation Complex by this construction season.

City Administrator Kevin Sutherland said borrowing money will allow the city to spend less on capital projects in years to come. He said this year the capital planning committee will allocate $770,000 as opposed to $1 million. The city will take on debt and pay interest over time without having an impact on the tax rate.

Public Works Director Patrick Fox said that while the city waits for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to return this November for a dredge of a lower section of the Saco River that will help replenish sand at Camp Ellis, the city will spend $250,000 to install a sea wall near Surf Street to address immediate erosion concerns. Fox said he is still working with the state on final design but hopes to have it built by April or May before tourist season begins.

Lincoln Street hasn’t been paved for at least 10 years and needs to be fully rebuilt, including repairs to the sewer and drainage systems. Fox said work there will take between three to five months and be done concurrently with repairs to Market Street, which is being funded with help from the state. The city plans to spend $950,000 on Lincoln Street repairs.

Foss Road Field upgrades will be completed hopefully before students return to school in fall, Fox said. The total cost of that work is $125,000.

“The busiest time is certainly the fall soccer season,” he said. “I’d like to have parking and utilities improvements done during the summer ahead of the next busy season. There’s always been a need for formalized parking. Until the transfer station relocated there wasn’t the opportunity to do that. With the relocation of the station last year and the approval of the bond, now we can make that a safer and more enjoyable recreational facility to visit.”

Other projects to be covered in the bonds, but that will not likely be completed this year, include Ocean Park Road area drainage system replacement, the police station roof replacement, city hall and parks and recreation facility HVAC systems, Saco Middle School baseball field, Route 1 sidewalk construction and sewer extension.

The most expensive bond question asked residents to spend $7.25 million on a new public works facility. According to the city website, the current facility was built in 1973 as a truck depot. The public works department moved there in 1985 and has made several adjustments, but the facility never met the department’s needs and would require about $4 million worth of improvements in the next five years. Fox said the city plans to relocate within the industrial park but has not chosen a lot yet. The new facility is planned to be 22,000 square-feet. The North Street facility is assessed at $2,037,000.

“The $7.25 million is enough to relocate but we would rely on the sale of the existing property on North Street to complete the project,” Fox said. “The idea behind that was to borrow as little as possible so as not to incur any more long term debt than we had to. We understood there would be inconveniences doing it that way but we felt the cost saving was worth it,” Fox said. “Once we know where we’re going and when, we can be more aggressive with marketing the current location. We’ve estimated it will bring in up to $2 million in funds we could put toward the completion of our new location. If those cost estimates are off, we simply reduce the scope of what was left for us. It’s a very unique property. The turnpike visibility is appealing to commercial businesses. Until we get further along in marketing and sales it’s hard to say what it’s going to bring us.”

Fox said the passing of all three bonds is indicative of an engaged and concerned citizenry.

“I’m not sure we’ve always in the past really told that story well as far as needing to use multiple funding mechanisms so that everything doesn’t just fall on the general fund and the mill rate in a one year cycle when trying to get projects done,” he said. “I’m looking forward to city staff administering these transactions in a responsible and successful way so that when we look to utilize this funding mechanism in the future, citizens are as comfortable with it as they showed this time.”

Saco Mayor Marston Lovell said the way the city handles its finances cannot be separated from the will of residents.

“Paying upfront meets the frugal nature of most of Saco’s taxpayers,” he said. “They would rather have saved and spent the savings to buy something at a good price than to have borrowed in order to do that and pay the premium of interest rates. I haven’t seen bond issues pass easily in the city of Saco. To have three issues pass as they did strikes me that Pat’s comments are actually very understanding.”

Sutherland said the public response was not an accident, but due to a deliberate public outreach effort.

“A lot of time was spent toward education,” he said. “Staff spent time working with people running for office and current public elected officials as well as open houses in several locations over several months because we understood the importance. We had a good turnout from the public. Staff has developed a timeline for how this will play out. We’re hopeful we can get these things off the ground this year, one of those being public works. We’re really going as fast as we can to find a location and begin this process and the 10 projects within the bond.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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