Developments spike Limestone code budget

LIMESTONE, Maine — Upcoming business and residential projects have put Limestone’s Code Enforcement Department over budget, town officials discovered while preparing finances.

Limestone Police Chief and Interim Town Manager Stacey Mahan said at a March 28 meeting that the Code Enforcement Department was about $1,600 over its $6,500 budget, but in a certain light, this is a good problem to have.

Mahan said Code Enforcement moved to its own separate budget line last year, rather than being part of the administrative budget. If it were still part of administration, Mahan said these costs would have been absorbed and this likely would not have been an issue.

When the town budget committee sat down last year to create the current budget, they had no way of anticipating the uptick in development, namely the addition of a Dollar General store, which the interim manager says is primarily responsible for the budget going over.

“No one expected Dollar General,” he said March 30, “and our code enforcement officer [Damon Howarth] burned up his hours much quicker than expected. Last year, for whatever reason, the decision was to take code enforcement out of admin and give them their own line, so there was no real flexibility there.”

Dollar General currently plans to build the store on the Access Highway, where a residential property currently stands. In November of last year, the property owners (who chose not to be named) indicated they were unsure whether developers would move the house itself or have it demolished, but that they would likely vacate the home around June of this year to make way for construction.

Howarth would have used his time quickly even if Dollar General had planned to construct their business on a vacant lot. However, because a residential property needs to be either moved or demolished, and the store will be close to an assisted living center, Howarth must spend more time ensuring everything is up to par.

At the March 28 meeting, Selectboard Chairman Tom Albert asked if it would be possible to absorb the extra funds. Mahan said no, suggesting that Limestone will need to hold a special town meeting in order to approve additional funding for the department.

Selectperson Melissa Devoe said a special meeting seemed like a feasible idea, and Mahan agreed, saying Howarth still has to take training courses before the town’s annual meeting in June.

Mahan also proposed bringing Code Enforcement back under administration, as it would give the town more flexibility in the event of unexpected construction projects.

Mahan said on March 30 that Limestone will “need their code enforcement officer more” in the future.

In addition to Dollar General, Mahan said he and Limestone Economic Development Coordinator Dennis McCartney have held discussions with an individual looking to bring a new business in town.

Because nothing is finalized, Mahan said he was unable to name the entrepreneur or indicate the type of business. He did say, however, that the individual is interested in the former Al-Bear’s pizza building on Main Street.

Additionally, he said he has seen “beautiful” conceptual drafts of a home that some individuals are planning to build on Pondview Street.

While officials have not yet set a date for a special town meeting on the code enforcement budget, they plan to do so in the near future, and see about bringing code enforcement back under administration so this problem does not occur again.

Mahan, while acknowledging the issue, believes multiple unexpected business and residential developments over the course of a single year is a good problem to have.

“That’s a good thing,” he said. “We didn’t expect to go over. As far as I’m concerned this is an issue, but the other side of that issue is that it’s a good thing. We’re getting an increase in construction projects. Things are getting done. We want to see things getting done here.”

He added, “I’d rather have this problem than the other.”

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