2016-09-07 / Front Page

Biddeford OKs sidewalk project funding

Work expected to begin this fall
By ALAN BENNETT
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD — The City Council in a 7-1 vote on Tuesday gave the green light to a series of proposed changes in funding for the Main Street Sidewalk Improvement Project, which the council initially approved in June.

The council authorized a $716,370 agreement between the city and J. Pratt Construction of Hebron to complete the project, which includes the reconstruction and expansion of sidewalks and lighting on both sides of Main Street in Alfred and Adams Street as well as enhanced lighting and other design elements throughout the downtown area.

It was stated at a council workshop last week that the project could run upward of $838,870 – more than $300,000 over budget – because of higher-than-expected construction costs.

To mitigate the excess cost, City Manager Jim Bennett last week suggested removing a proposed $122,500 worth of tree and flower plantings until fiscal year 2018, bringing the project’s cost down to its current total.

He also proposed that the remaining $421,905 be shared equally from three sources: the city’s tax-increment financing, or TIF, unallocated fund, and funding from existing Lincoln Street improvement plans and local road taxes, each in the amount of $140,635.

Councilors amended that proposal Tuesday at the request of Councilor Michael Ready to draw $281,270 from the city’s undesignated fund balance instead of drawing from the existing Lincoln Street plans and other road access funds. The rest will be drawn from the TIF.

“I support having the project done; I don’t support the funding sources,” Ready said. “My issue is, I don’t want to take money from a project we haven’t even started. The Lincoln Street project is going to be very in-depth, very comprehensive ... I don’t want to go into (that) project already determined we may have to fall short of our expectations.”

“I just don’t want to start out other projects already in the hole before the first shovel hits the ground,” Ready added.

Bennett said that given the city’s current surplus – which he estimated is about $1.5 million or $1.6 million – and with a predetermined $450,000 set aside for contingency in 2016, the money would be available for the city to borrow from its own funds to cover the $281,270 needed and pay it back after the project’s completion.

Bennett also said investing the money in the current project might offset costs of the Lincoln Street project down the road because certain intersections, including where Lincoln Street intersects with Main Street, would already be repaired.

Councilors Rick Laverriere and Stephen St. Cyr were not so partial to the idea of drawing from the undesignated fund balance.

Laverriere said he thought the existing proposal would have a better chance of passing, and St. Cyr said he would “rather see dollars coming from specific sources.”

Mayor Alan Casavant, passing aside the gavel, said downtown revitalization is critical for the city’s economic development, and that he would prefer to see the council act on the project.

“I think it’s really important we vote on this. The rejuvenation of a downtown is a catalyst for so many things. A vibrant downtown defines a city ... it defines who we are as a community when we have something that’s good,” Casavant said. “I think by looking at the redevelopment happening in the downtown ... this is all a step in the right direction, and I think it’s huge that we do this.”

Councilors voted 6-2 in favor of the amendment to draw $281,270 from the undesignated fund, with Councilors Bob Mills and St. Cyr in opposition. The project was ultimately authorized in a 7-1 vote, with St. Cyr in opposition. Councilor Laura Seaver was not in attendance.

The sidewalk project is expected to be completed in two phases in a staggered construction sequence with the Maine Department of Transportation.

MDOT is set to pave two lanes of the roadway this fall and leave the side parking stalls untouched until spring. The sidewalks are expected to be completed before winter, and MDOT will come back and pave the parking areas in the spring.

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or abennett@journaltribune.com.

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