Special town meeting canceled

Relocation of Town Office, other business heads to vote Nov. 6

Information meeting, public hearing Oct. 1
By Beth A. Birmingham | Sep 11, 2018
Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham Thomaston attorney Paul Gibbons, seated center facing camera, listens as the Board of Selectmen read through referendum items to be addressed at a public hearing Oct. 1.

Thomaston — Following much discussion at its Aug. 27 meeting, which saw more than 75 residents in attendance, the Thomaston Board of Selectmen voted to cancel a previously scheduled special town meeting and will take the business planned for the meeting to a referendum vote Nov. 6.

The issues being brought forth include:

-- authorizing the town to renovate the former Lura Libby facility to accommodate relocation of the Town Office, police department, recreation department and food pantry;

-- approving the borrowing of not more than $1.1 million to finance the renovations to the Lura Libby facility and related costs of said relocation;

-- authorizing the town to borrow not more than $280,000 and accept matching grant funds up to $250,000 from the Northern Border Regional Commission to complete the last phase of the Thomaston Business Block Streetscape Project;

-- to see if the town will appropriate from the Unassigned Fund Balance the amount of $11,925 to fund annual stipends for the Board of Selectmen;

-- enact an ordinance or amendment entitled "Proposed Changes to Chapter 7 Land Use & Development Ordinance";

-- and seek implementation of amendments to the town's dog ordinances.

Despite approval by voters at town meeting to continue planning for the Town Office's move to the Lura Libby building, persistent requests for detailed analyses have resulted in the need for further voter input.

In June 2016, Thomaston residents voted 206 to 81 to close Lura Libby Elementary School, transferring approximately 170 students to Thomaston Grammar School.

The town entered into a one-year lease agreement with Regional School Unit 13 for $1 in September 2016, then took ownership of the building in January 2017, at which time the Standing Municipal Facilities Committee was formed.

The SMFC was given directives by the selectmen to research the feasibility of relocating the above-mentioned offices to the former school building. Those directives included to: review for recommendation the relocation of the Town Office, police and recreation departments; analyze and recommend inclusion of the fire and ambulance departments to the same facility; and analyze and recommend the reuse of Watts Hall's five first-floor units.

Subsequently, the SMFC presented the board with three recommendations: to proceed with the Phase 1 plan; pursue rental/sale or condoization of Watts Block while retaining the second floor; or hold a public hearing to discuss recommendations.

At its Aug. 13 meeting, the Select Board voted to accept a $250,000 Northern Borders Regional Commission Improvement Grant Agreement to assist in the final phase of the Thomaston Business Block Streetscape Project, which began in 2010. The grant will cover 47 percent of the estimated cost of $530,000.

Other phases of the project since the design phase have included relocation of gas storage tanks, renovations to the alleyway, rebuilding the sidewalk on Beechwood Street, installing underground conduits, a new storm drain system, and the current Safe Routes to School construction.

At their June 25 meeting, selectmen addressed several items of concern brought up at town meeting June 13 -- including the zero stipend approved by voters for the Board of Selectmen's service.

Selectman Beverly St. Clair said, being a newly elected board member and one who did not volunteer her stipend to be withheld, made a motion to reinstate the amount of $11,923.82 for Select Board stipend, as recommended by the town manager and the Budget Committee.

St. Clair believes there was confusion on the part of the combined boards over the fact that when Town Manager Valmore Blastow sharpened his pencil one last time in the budgeting process there was an $11,200 cut proposed for the police department, which the Budget Committee voted down; and in the very next meeting to follow, the selectmen voted to forgo their stipend.

Although there were several references saying the $11,923.82 was going toward maintaining the police department budget -- including comments made by Selectman Peter Lammert and Budget Committee member Joanne Richards at town meeting, St. Clair said that was misleading, because that budget never changed throughout the entire process.

The Board of Selectmen elected to suspend its stipend for a year to help reduce the "overall budget," and that reduction was linked to the police department budget's increase in traffic control, which the community has been asking for.

St. Clair also said she believes people were satisfied there could be a remedy when then-Selectman Greg Hamlin commented -- confirmed by Blastow -- that the stipends might be able to be restored in a later article pertaining to unexpended balances.

As all wages for the town were lumped into the general government category for approval, St. Clair said, she thinks if the selectmen's stipends had stood alone, the passage never would have happened.

After further debate, the board agreed to bring the issue back to the voters.

Selectmen will hold an information meeting Monday, Oct. 1, at 6 p.m. in the multi-purpose room at the former Lura Libby School, 13 Valley St., to present the proposal for the Municipal Facility Project at Lura Libby.

Public Hearings are to follow at 7 p.m. to discuss the warrant articles to be voted on by Referendum Ballot Nov. 6.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com.

Relocation of Town Office, other business heads to vote Nov. 6
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