Elektra Greatorex and her dogs, from left, Mr. Hanz, Mavis and Jazzoo, cross Main Street in downtown Waterville on Wednesday. The City Council is supporting borrowing another $1 million toward a multimillion-dollar project that would change the street from one-way to two-way traffic, among other downtown improvements. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

WATERVILLE — In a divided vote, the City Council is supporting adding an additional $1 million toward the downtown BUILD project that would reshape the heart of downtown traffic flow.

The council’s 5-2 vote Tuesday night does not mean the city will definitely borrow the $1 million, but rather that the request will be added to a list of other capital improvement funding requests as part of a proposed 2020 bond package to be considered this summer. The BUILD project proposes to change the traffic on Main and Front streets to two-way, improve intersections and sidewalks and make the downtown area of the city more pedestrian-friendly.

The city was awarded the $7.37 million BUILD grant last year. The Maine Department of Transportation committed $975,000 to the project, and Colby College pitched in $1.64 million, bringing the total budget to $9.98 million. Since then, the project estimate was decreased to $9.21 million.

A bicyclist crosses Main Street in downtown Waterville on Wednesday. The City Council is supporting borrowing another $1 million toward a multimillion-dollar project that would change the street from one-way to two-way traffic, among other downtown improvements. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

City Manager Michael Roy last month requested $1 million in additional funding, citing unexpected costs, including rising construction prices.

Councilors Rick Foss, R-Ward 5, and Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, opposed the request, saying during Tuesday night’s council meeting that they questioned the timing of borrowing the money now.

Francke said councilors have not yet finalized a budget for 2020-21 and he thought it premature to talk about funding another $1 million now.

Claude Francke  

“I, frankly, think that while Councilor (Sydney) Mayhew makes a very compelling argument in favor of the project, the question remains, ‘Can we afford it at this point, in these current economic circumstances?'” Francke said.

Mayhew, R-Ward 4, had praised the project and urged councilors to include the $1 million in the bond package. Mayhew took part in the planning of downtown revitalization and has been involved since it began a few years ago. He said the improvements would ensure new infrastructure for downtown, draw businesses there and be an economic boon to the city.

Mayhew said the city can find the $1 million without having to raise taxes and possible funding sources include future tax revenue for the hotel being built on Main Street and TIF money.

Erik Thomas

“This is a $1 million investment on the part of our municipality for a $10 million project,” Mayhew said.

Foss, the other vote dissenter, asked if anyone had looked for grants to help fund the $1 million and questioned the urgency of committing to the funding now.

Council Chairman Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7, said officials must look beyond current economic circumstances, because the project will reap long-term benefits for the city.

“We have to look at the value of that investment over the life of the project,” he said.

Roy said Tuesday that he recently worked with a state Department of Transportation engineer who was able to lower the price on a number of items based on bidding that came in.

A pedestrian, bottom, crosses Main Street in downtown Waterville on Wednesday as equipment is used to install a water main. The City Council is supporting borrowing another $1 million toward a multimillion-dollar project that would change the street from one-way to two-way traffic, among other downtown improvements. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Initially, the shortfall on the project was $1.6 million, but it was decreased to $1.4 million, according to Roy. He said if the city funds the $1 million, the transportation department will provide the remaining $400,000.

 

POOL, STREET CLOSURES

In other matters Tuesday, councilors voted 7-0 to keep the Alfond Municipal Pool on North Street closed for the 2020 season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The entrance to the Harold Alfond Municipal Pool in Waterville is closed and will remain so for the rest of the summer because of the coronavirus pandemic. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Matt Skehan, director of the Parks & Recreation Department, recommended the closure.

“I just think that with the state’s restrictions and the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention), it would be too risky to open the pool this year,” Skehan said.

Thomas agreed, saying the financial hit the city would take by opening it up also isn’t worth it.

The council voted 7-0 Tuesday to close part of Silver Street to traffic from Wednesday through Sept. 30 to allow more space for outdoor dining for Silver Street Tavern, The Last Unicorn and Cancun restaurants. The section to be closed will be from Main Street to the entrance to The Concourse, across Silver Street from Cancun.

Councilors made it clear that while they were approving the closure to benefit three businesses, they want to help any small business that is struggling right now because of the pandemic and hope those businesses will reach out to the council.

John Fortier, who owns an insurance business on Silver Street, called into the meeting, with Deputy City Clerk Sarah Cross quoting him as saying he “vehemently opposes closing Silver Street.”

The council voted 7-0 to allow 18 Below to have outdoor dining on the sidewalk and in three parking spaces after 5 p.m. on Silver Street; 7-0 to allow You Know Whose Pub on The Concourse to have outdoor dining; and 7-0 to accept a $41,186 coronavirus emergency supplemental grant from the federal government and a $30,000 CARES Act grant for airport operations.

 

OTHER BUSINESS

Councilors voted 7-0 to approve a marijuana retail license for Amber Horizons at 75 Armory Road and 7-0 to approve a 1-year lease option with MEVS LLC for a solar facility next to Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport.

The council also voted 7-0 to ask the Planning Board to consider a request to prohibit commercial vehicles from parking in residential areas. According to Councilor Mike Morris, D-Ward 1, the request stems from complaints of flatbed trucks being parked along High Street and drivers starting the engines in the wee hours of the morning and disturbing the peace.

Roy asked for a standing ovation from the council for City Clerk Patti Dubois, who will leave the city Thursday to become city clerk in Augusta. Dubois appeared with Cross during the virtual meeting.

Roy said city employees are “very, very sad” about Dubois’ imminent departure and he will miss her.

Waterville City Clerk and Registrar of Voters Patty Dubois testifies May 1, 2019, during a hearing on voter eligibility before the Waterville Voter Registration Appeals board in Waterville. Morning Sentinel file

Mayhew praised her for her work with the city, saying she promoted teamwork, was diligent, and always accessible to dispense information.

“The city of Augusta is going to gain somebody that is very valuable,” he said.

Dubois thanked the council and others.

“It’s been a challenging few years here, but I think I’m stronger for it, for the most part,” she said.

She said she was going to miss everyone, but lives in Winslow, so she won’t be far away. Her parting words drew applause from councilors, Roy, Mayor Nick Isgro and others who attended the virtual meeting.

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