WATERVILLE — The newest Planning Board member said Monday that the city needs to consider hiring another code enforcement officer and do a citywide property revaluation.
Paul Lussier, a former Waterville code enforcement officer and current developer, said the city’s lone code enforcement officer, Garth Collins, is at a disadvantage because his workload is so great.
“I’m thankful that the code enforcement office is running as well as it is, as understaffed as it is, because for me as a builder, it is critical,” Lussier said. “I just hope he doesn’t leave or get sick.”
City officials for the last few years have debated whether to hire another code enforcement officer. Proposed changes to the city’s comprehensive plan recommend a discussion be had about not only that, but also about possibly hiring someone to do clerical tasks Collins now must do in the absence of an administrative assistant.
The code enforcement issue arose Monday as the Planning Board got its first look at proposed changes to the comprehensive plan. That plan has not been updated since 1997.
Lussier was attending his first meeting as a board member, but has institutional knowledge of the city’s code enforcement office, having been a code enforcement officer nearly 20 years ago. He said that back then, building permit fees were “ridiculously low” — $10 or $12 per building — and the city was looking at ways to raise revenues. City ordinances had not been updated and city councilors and other officials researched how other cities such as Portland did inspections and structured fee schedules, Lussier said.
Waterville councilors at the time recommended hiring another code enforcement officer and staff person in the code enforcement office, and building fees were raised from under $50 to in some cases $1,000 for a new house, he said.
The intent of the ordinance the city adopted was to review fee structures on a year-to-year basis, but that did not occur, he said.
Ten years ago, the city lost both Lussier and the support staff member, he said, adding that the staffing issue needs to be revisited.
“I think we need to look at that,” he said.
As a developer in both Waterville and Oakland, Lussier said he has to explain to people why taxes for a new $180,000 to $200,000 house are $300 more in Waterville than in Oakland. If Waterville had a revaluation, the difference would not be as great, as properties are not assessed at 100 percent valuation, as they are in Oakland.
“It’d be great to have a citywide revaluation,” he said.
Erik Thomas, chairman of the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, said he could incorporate into the comprehensive plan draft something about the cost for a revaluation for Waterville, which is about $350,000.
“It is definitely something we’re discussing,” Thomas, who also is a city councilor, said.
Thomas said he also plans to take back to the steering committee a recommendation by Kennebec Messalonskee Trails President Peter Garrett and Planning Board member Scott Workman for a bicycle/pedestrian plan for Waterville.
Planning Board Chairman David Geller said the steering committee also should include in the proposal a required vision statement and information about regional participation, which are required by the state Department of Conservation.
Then the steering committee will bring to the Planning Board on Monday, March 3, the completed proposed comprehensive plan package. The board after that would vote whether to recommend the plan to the City Council, according to Geller.
The public is invited to that March 3 meeting to give input, he said.
After the council votes on the plan, it goes to the state Conservation Department for approval or recommended revisions.
The former state Planning Office in the past considered municipalities’ comprehensive plans, but when that department was dissolved, the Conservation Department took over the duty.