BRUNSWICK

The year 2014 saw changes and challenges in Brunswick. Here are some highlights:

THE YEAR SAWmany

changes in town government, beginning when former Town Manager Gary Brown — who was scheduled to resign no later than March 31 — was ousted from his position in February by a split town council. Brown was succeeded by John Eldridge, the town’s long-standing finance director who served as interim manager, after a months-long search process.

Brown was hired this year as town manager of St. James, N.C.

Council Chairman Benet Pols, who advocated for Brown’s early removal, didn’t run for re-election this year. His at-large seat was won by Kathy Wilson in November.

Former Boothbay selectman Dan Harris was also elected to the council, ousting Gerald Favreau, who had served since 2006.

Stephen Langsdorf became the town’s primary legal resource after the council in January switched law firms to Preti Flaherty.

Like Pols, Michele Joyce, who had served as chairwoman of the school board, declined to run for re-election. Sarah Singer was elected to that seat.

School board member Jim Grant was re-elected by seven votes following a recount requested by challenge Christopher Watkinson.

For the state Legislature, Ralph Tucker was declared the winner in a recount in a primary battle against Jackie Sartoris to secure the Democratic nomination for the House District 50 seat. Tucker edged out Sartoris by about 10 votes, and went on to win in the general election.

TOWN OFFICES WERE

moved to the former McLellan building in 2014, but the council was still plagued by renovation costs. The council budgeted about $150,000 for overruns, raising the total costs of renovations to $1.2 million. In 2011, it was estimated renovations would have cost a mere $100,000, although estimates quickly skyrocketed.

The former municipal offices and rec center downtown were demolished this year to make way for Coastal Enterprises Inc.’s new, consolidated offices, despite concerns by neighbors over the size and design of CEI’s building, to be completed in 2015. In 2014, the town council approved a 3.5 percent increase in the tax rate to help pay for a combined $57.9 million budget. This year’s budget process helped lead to the creation of a finance committee to set long-term financial goals.

Brunswick Development Corp. also saw some changes, working under newly adopted bylaws and altering its criteria for loans and grants. New board members appointed this year included Harris, Vincent DiCara, Steve Walker and Sarah Brayman. BDC administrator and the town’s business development manager Linda Smith, hired in late 2013, completed her first year in Brunswick.

The past year saw change and upheaval in the Cook’s Corner area.

Lamey Wellehan announced it was leaving Cook’s Corner Shopping Mall and Day’s Jeweler’s said it was abandoning Merrymeeting Plaza. Both businesses are relocating at the Topsham Fair Mall. Meanwhile, a Goodwill store opened in November near the Regal Cinemas at the site of the former Atrium hotel.

A tax increment financing plan that proponents, including developers and two town councilors, say would have spurred development in the area, never materialized.

The former Jordan Acres Elementary School remained vacant in 2014, although the school board did decide that, if and when it approves plans for a new elementary school, a new building ought to go on the Jordan Acres site.

Cost estimates for a new elementary school have risen to more than $26 million.

After months of debate and consternation, the school board settled on a plan to deal with a population bubble at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School by moving future fifth graders to classrooms in the junior high. Opponents are still asking the board to revisit its decision.

The council approved a nearly half-million dollar bond for upgrades to the junior high school, but work is still needed at both that school and Coffin Elementary School. Both schools have life-safety systems in need of replacement, according to Facilities Director Paul Caron.

The school board capped the district’s share of graduation at $10,000, after initially approving $33,000 as part of the annual budget. The rising cost of graduation raised a number of eyebrows on the school board and in the community. Although 2014 graduation was budgeted at $21,000, the actual cost was $17,800.

The Maine Human Rights Commission decided it will file a suit against the Brunswick School District over complaints that a former Brunswick junior high student was bullied, harassed and assaulted while he attended school there.

Shanna Crofton took over this year as principal at Brunswick High School.

Efforts to rewrite the town’s outdated and complex zoning ordinance continued in 2014, although a final draft rewrite may still be months away.

Wrangling over a proposed passenger train layover facility in a residential area in Brunswick continued in 2014. Opponents continued to muster support, enlisting the aid of Gov. Paul LePage. In June, the Federal Railroad Administration brought in a finding of no significant impact in its environmental assessment. However, the facility cannot be built until after the state issues a storm water permit, a process that was delayed in 2014. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has not yet scheduled a hearing on the permit.

Meanwhile, members of the town council heard complaints from neighbors in the Cedar Street area that idling trains were causing noise, vibration and pollution. The town council started exploring closing the landfill earlier than expected, due to higher than allowable levels of ammonia being discharged into the Androscoggin River.

About 25 workers at Brunswick’s FairPoint facility joined 1,700 other employees across Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont on a strike starting in October. As of Dec. 30, the strike continued.

Brunswick police ended a standoff with tear gas in October after a Mere Point Road woman allegedly fired a gun from her home. The woman was hospitalized for evaluation.

Finally, the saga of two inns appeared finished after The Inn at Brunswick Station formally changed its name to The Brunswick Hotel and Tavern, following a court ruling in favor of The Brunswick Inn, which complained that the former’s previous name caused confusion.

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