2016-08-13 / Front Page

New Wells public safety building may be put on hold

Associate Editor

WELLS — For about 10 years, the Wells Police Department property has been in “critical need” of repair or replacement.

And for the past several years, the town has been taking steps necessary for a new public safety building that would house the police and fire departments as well as a fire substation that would replace two substations that also have deficiencies.

However, an issue about how to fund the proposed buildings has now come to light. On Tuesday, the Wells Board of Selectmen will discuss whether a $19.1 million bond to fund the buildings should be on the November ballot, or if the plans should be sent back to the drawing board to come up with a less expensive design.

“They (selectmen) have some thinking to do,” said Town Manager Jonathan Carter in a phone interview earlier this week. “They’re trying to decide whether to go forward.”

At issue is LD 1, a legislative mandate passed in 2004 that limits the amount a municipality can raise in property taxes each year.

The debt service to pay for a standard 20-year bond for the public safety building – as well as an additional $4.8 million bond to pay for a 25,000-square-foot expansion for the Wells Public Library, bringing the total to about $24 million – would require raising property taxes to more than the allowable amount under the mandate, Carter said.

Selectmen discussed the issue during a workshop on Aug. 2, and are considering their options, he said.

When the board meets on Tuesday, Carter said he will have information available on questions such as:

• What is the highest the town could raise taxes without going over the LD 1 budget cap?

• Would stretching the bond payments out to 25 or 30 years bring the amount to be paid low enough to stay within the LD 1 limit?

• Should the architect be asked to redesign the project at a lower price point?

If the board decides to go forward with the current plan, voters would also be asked to approve exceeding the LD 1 limit.

“In many towns, this would not be a problem, because they exceed the LD 1 level all the time,” said Carter.

However, he added, the Town of Wells does not do this.

If selectmen decide they want a lower bond, the architecture firm that conducted the initial study, Lavallee Bresinger Architects, would be asked to come up with a new plan.

“That would take weeks to do,” Carter said, and would result in putting the bond question on the June ballot, which typically has a much lower voter turnout than November elections.

Regardless of when a bond to fund the public safety building goes on the ballot and how much it’s for, there is “a critical need to replace the police station,” said Carter. “It’s in a very poor state. It’s the number one facility that needs to be dealt with.”

Replacing the High Pine and the Branch fire substations are also high on the priority list. They have numerous deficiencies, Carter said, and “cannot accommodate modern fire equipment.”

There is also a significant need for an expansion of the town library, according to the library’s website.

The library, which was built in 1978 and expanded in 1992, is full almost to capacity, according to the website. The 11,400-square-foot building serves not only Wells residents, but also residents of Moody, Moody Beach, Ogunquit, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and more – about 25,000 year-round residents and 40,000 summer visitors.

Deficiencies include book shelves that are full, limited meeting space, just nine computers with internet access for public use, and inadequate space for students who use the facility.

As proposed, the library addition would provide increased shelving and expanded collections, replace time-worn chairs and tables, be eco-friendly, enlarge the children’s room, and provide a separate room for teens as well as a community program room with seating for 120.

Amy Anderson, chair of the library board of trustees, said she’s not sure what will happen if selectmen decide not to put the library bond on the November ballot.

“We want it to be on the ballot,” said Anderson. “We’ll just have to wait until Aug. 16 and find out what the selectmen will do.”

— Associate Editor Dina Mendros can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 324 or dmendros@journaltribune.com.

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