SCARBOROUGH — Town councilors on Tuesday gave initial approval to borrowing $2.5 million to bolster the town’s land trust fund, which is essentially empty, as well as $1 million to renovate the track at the high school.

Following public hearings on both and second readings on Wednesday, Sept. 4, the bond proposals will head to referendum Nov. 5.

The land trust fund, which has a balance of just $270, was effectively emptied on July 10 to fund Blue Point Preserve Campaign, a conservation project to make land available for walking trails and access to the marsh for birding, photography and other passive uses.

Including interest paid over the life of the proposed 20-year bond, estimated at just less than $1.4 million, debt service for the land trust fund may reach almost $4 million if approved at the polls.

Rick Shinay, trust president, said although the organization is seeking funds for land conservation now, the funds won’t be spent immediately. It took 18 years, he said, for the land trust to spend $5 million previously awarded to them, which had to be done through the referendum process.

Since 2004, the land trust has spent just over $3.4 million to acquire 725 acres of land. The newly approved parcel will add to the six public access preserves in town.

“Conserving land is a long-term investment in our quality of life,” Parks and Conservation Land Board Chairwoman Suzanne Foley Ferguson said at the meeting. “The benefits far exceed the initial costs … supporting land conservation is a wise economic strategy.”

The vote for initial authorization was 4-2; Councilor Don Hamill said he disapproved because he felt it was a lot of money upfront.

Councilor Katy Foley supported the measure, saying she’s satisfied knowing each project is individually vetted and the land trust has been prudent in spending funds responsibility over the years.

The council on Aug. 27 also voted down a request from the director of community services to increase bonding from $1 million to $1.6 million to fund renovations at the high school track and repair the turf, reflecting the $1 million initially approved in the town budget in May.

Town Manager Tom Hall said the initial budget estimate to fix and update the field was inadequate, and that several vendors such as Field Turf USA Inc., NET Sports Group, Sprinturf LLC, AstroTurf Corporation and Turf Prep had higher estimates after completing inspections on the field more recently.

“We want something that will serve us long-term, and we want to meet safety standards,” said Director of Community Services Todd Souza. “The old track was laid over years ago, and because some safety regulations have changed, we’ve had to make adjustments to the needed renovations.”

By a 6-1 vote, with Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina opposed, councilors initially approved the $1 million bond; Caterina preferred the $1.6 million estimate, saying it was ultimately up to taxpayers to approve the bond at that price.

Other councilors, however, weren’t happy with the 50 percent deviation from the original estimate.

“When a number swings by a cool half million, that’s a problem for me,” said Councilor Don Hamill. “I don’t make decisions like this in my household … that’s crazy. I think we’re being entirely irresponsible just to put it on the ballot as $1.6 million.”

Foley said she was “disappointed” to see such a large jump in requested funds, noting that making decisions to approve funds like this builds public distrust.

“We devoted a great deal of time and energy to the conversation,” she said. “I know it’s needed and necessary, but it feels disrespectful to the process.”

Hall said in an interview Aug. 14 that enough evidence has been gathered for possible charges against several people suspected of doing more than $22,000 worth of damage to the high school athletic field. This money, he explained, could be used to fund some of he athletic field renovations needed.


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