Saturday, March 8, 2014
South Portland voters approved a $14 million bond on Tuesday that will help fund construction of a new public works complex on Highland Avenue.
On the City Council, voters re-elected Mayor Tom Blake and brought back former councilor Maxine Beecher. They also re-elected current School Board Chairman Rick Carter, with 8,837 (45.6 percent) of the city’s 19,369 registered voters casting ballots in municipal and state elections.
The vote was 4,858 to 3,536 to build a public works complex that will replace a much smaller, outmoded garage on O’Neil Street.
The Highland Avenue site is next to the city’s transfer station, which would be incorporated into the new complex. The project’s total cost is roughly $15.7 million, with an additional $1.7 million to be covered by reserve funds and a federal grant.
Constructed before 1950, the current public works facility no longer accommodates the department’s needs because vehicle maintenance bays are too small for large public works trucks and the buildings overall are inadequate, according to city officials.
At nearly 79,000 square feet, the proposed facility will include seven modern vehicle maintenance bays, workshops, indoor parts and equipment storage, covered outdoor vehicle storage and office space for the city’s Parks and Recreation and Transportation departments.
In 2018, the city expects to retire an old bond, so the impact of the new bond on taxpayers would be minimized. The new bond would increase property taxes on a house valued at $190,000 by roughly $55 annually, city officials said.
On the council, four candidates ran for two at-large seats. Blake and Beecher won the seats with 3,900 votes and 3,761 votes, respectively. School Board member Richard Matthews received 3,340 votes and former Planning Board member Carol Thorne received 2,277 votes.
Each candidate boasted a track record of public service, and each wanted to make good decisions to help the city grow and prosper.
On the controversial Waterfront Protection Ordinance, which voters rejected 4,453 to 4,261 on Tuesday, Beecher and Thorne said they opposed the measure, while Blake was an outspoken proponent and Matthews declined to take a position.
Blake, 62, sought his third term as an at-large councilor. A retired South Portland firefighter and emergency medical technician, Blake said he would continue to push for greater sustainability in city government, a closer working relationship between the council and the School Board, and municipal budgets that minimize new taxes and maintain city services.
Beecher, 70, is a former three-term District 4 city councilor. Since she left office in 2012, she said, she has never stopped being involved in city issues, and was active in a campaign to keep Bug Light Park and South Portland Park alcohol-free. She said she supported the public works complex bond and opposed the waterfront zoning proposal because she feared it would spur lawsuits if it passed.
Matthews, 47, is a stay-at-home dad who offered a relatively undefined campaign agenda. He said would advocate for current levels of city services without pushing taxes “through the roof.”
Thorne, 66, is a real estate broker who served on the Planning Board from 1996 to 2011, when she helped develop the city’s comprehensive plan. She said the citizen-initiated waterfront zoning proposal needed more study because it could hamper waterfront development.
On the School Board, Rick Carter, a nine-year veteran of the panel, faced Eugene Swiger, a former custodian and maintenance employee for the school district. The seat represents District 1, in the eastern part of the city.
Carter, 51, said his experience on the board gives him an advantage in developing annual budgets, especially given the uncertainty of state funding. He said he hopes to continue helping to oversee the $47.4 million renovation of South Portland High School and push for continued progress in the district’s preschool program.
Swiger, 64, said he wasn’t a traditional politician and chose to run so he could promote tighter limits on spending and push to reinvigorate trade-related education programs for students who aren’t cut out for college. He said administrators are overpaid and criticized the cost of the high school renovation project.
Board members Sara Goldberg ran unopposed for another three-year term in the District 2 seat, and Mary House ran unopposed for another one-year at-large term.
Kelley Bouchard can be reached at 791-6328 or at: