GARDINER — Robert Andrews — “Everybody calls me Andy” — remembers when the city of Gardiner repaved Oak Street, where he lives.

That was about 25 years ago, and he remembers because his kids could ride their skateboards on it with no problem.

“That would be kind of hard to do now,” Andrews said, because the surface is rough and in need of repair.

That’s true of many streets in Gardiner.

This year, though, that may change.

In the $5,867,544 city spending plan that Gardiner City Manager Scott Morelli is proposing for the upcoming budget year, the capital budget for the Public Works Department more than doubles to nearly $800,000. But the city’s portion of the overall budget is down for the second year in a row, and if passed — the city’s share doesn’t include either Kennebec County’s assessment or School Administrative District 11’s portion — would lower the tax rate by 10 cents, from $21.60 per $1,000 of valuation to $21.50 per $1,000 of valuation.

The Public Works money would be spent on a series of projects aimed at improving the city’s streets and sidewalks. Projects include funding a grant match for a downtown paving project, paying for the services of a stormwater engineer to identify costs for fixing problem areas and paying for the start of a comprehensive, city-wide paving project that will address Gardiner’s worst roads first.

The money would be taken from the city’s fund balance, which is essentially money not spent in previous years, so these one-time projects would have no impact on the city’s tax rate, if they are approved.

Every year, Morelli said, crafting the budget is a balancing act between the wishes of the city and the funds available to accomplish them. The Gardiner City Council has identified fixing roads as a priority as well as keeping property taxes flat.

“For years, we have been trying to recover from the cuts to revenue sharing,” he said. Historically, the state has shared a percentage of its corporate, income and sales tax revenue with municipalities to lessen the burden of property taxes on state residents. But ongoing cuts have left municipalities struggling to find ways to make that up in their budgets by cutting services or raising property taxes or both.

“Since I have been here,” Morelli said, “Gardiner has not adequately funded the paving budget. It has topped out at $180,000 a year, but in some years, we have cut that so we didn’t have to increase taxes or not raise them any more than we already had. At some point, that does come back and bite you.”

Generally speaking, the life of a road is about 10 years. But the rate of funding that’s been approved in recent years puts the life of a road at 40 years, four times the ideal. With the funding this budget proposes, Gardiner’s roads would be put on a 25-year replacement schedule.

“That’s still longer than the ideal lifetime, but it’s a 15-year improvement,” he said.

This spending plan would also pay for $320,000 needed to match the state grant for the downtown paving project and also nearly $28,000 for the city’s required match for the Cobbossee Trail project.

“When the economy crashed, we couldn’t afford it,” Morelli said, “but this year it’s something that we can factor into the budget.”

There are a couple of compelling reasons to do so, he said. First, the state is not going to hold on to the money forever.

“We’re getting to the point where we’d have to give the money back and be on the hook for what was already spent,” he said. “That wouldn’t be a productive use of the city’s dollars.”

Second, the redevelopment of the T.W. Dick Co. property on Summer Street into a medical arts building, the possible affordable housing development also on Summer Street and the likely bridge replacements in that neighborhood make continuing work on the Cobbossee Corridor Master Plan reasonable.

“That work is going to have to span a couple of years,” Morelli said. “For the route we envisioned, certain parts are not possible.”

A subcommittee of the city’s Parks and Recreation Committee is expected to do some fundraising and help come up with ideas for alternate routes.

The capital portion of the budget contains requests for new vehicles for public works, police and fire departments and repairs to the South Gardiner fire station to make it suitable for document storage.

The capital improvements are just one part of the budget that Morelli distributed to city councilors earlier this month. Over the course of the next three months, elected city officials will have the chance to review and discuss the recommendations, and the public will be invited to have its say.

These meetings will begin at 6 p.m. at city hall on the following days:

• April 13, public works and buildings and grounds budgets;

• April 27, library, technology, general government, planning and economic development, and community and social services budgets;

• May 4, police and fire/ambulance budgets;

• May 11, wastewater and TIF budgets and start of budget debate;

• May 18, discussion and continued debate on budget and move to a first reading;

• June 1, public hearing and first reading of the budget;

• June 22, public hearing and second and final reading of the budget.

In the meantime, Andrews has a couple of ideas about which roads to fix. Central Street gets tough to drive on in the spring, because it turns into a washboard.

“There were a lot of holes in Highland Avenue, but the city fixed that. I think we’d all like better streets and roads if it’s feasible,” he said.

Beth Cuprak, who logs time every day walking with her three dogs, said Gardiner prizes its sidewalks.

“We want to be a walking city,” she said Thursday. “Most everybody in my neighborhood has dogs, and we walk them, or they ride bicycles.”

She’d like to see investment in the streets and sidewalks because that spending pays off in the long run.

“It will cost more later,” she said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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