Council OKs excavator, debates Civic Center

12 years ago

By Joseph Cyr
Staff Writer

    HOULTON — Holding its first meeting in the wake of Town Manager Doug Hazlett’s resignation two weeks ago, it was business as usual for the town council Monday evening. The municipality is currently advertising the position of town manager with a deadline of April 20 for resumes to be received.
    At Monday night’s meeting, councilors agreed to waive the bid process and authorized spending up to $25,000 from the capital reserve account for the purchase of a 1992 Liebherr 912 Wheeled Excavator.
    Leigh Stillwell, the town’ public works director, asked the council for the funds to purchase the excavator. He said the equipment, which is currently in Old Town, has been sitting dormant for about six years but was otherwise in exceptional condition for its age.
    The equipment will cost $15,000 to purchase, with an additional $10,000 budgeted to help cover transporting it from Old Town to Houlton, repairs that need to be made to it, as well as potentially having enough money to purchase a used “ditching” bucket for the excavator, if one can be located.
    A new excavator costs upwards of $185,000, Stillwell said. The town traditionally rents an excavator, spending roughly $4,500 per year to do repair work on ditches. The town has a small 1988 backhoe, but that vehicle is not sufficient for the ditch work that needs to be done on a yearly basis, Stillwell said.
    “This is a great opportunity for us to see how this would work for us,” Stillwell said. “I don’t see how we could get into one for any cheaper.”
    Chairman Paul Cleary said the town needed to start taking a closer look at its public works equipment.
    “We keep purchasing fire trucks, ambulances and police cruisers, but we need to start looking at your (public works) department,” Cleary said. “We need to start giving you some new equipment. We’re buying a 1992 item here and we’re happy about that? That’s not good. (Public works) is one of the most important departments out there.”
    He suggested the council should consider improvements to the public works department during the next budget cycle, possibly funding the purchase of some new pieces of equipment with Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district funds. Cleary asked Stilwell to compile a prioritized list of equipment his department needed for the council to review.
    In other agenda items, the council heard an update on its Civic Center Advisory Board from councilors Mike Jenkins and Rob Hannigan, as well as Civic Center Director Bernie Reece. The committee held its first meeting last week.
    “The goal is to better manage it (Millar Civic Center), increase revenue and find ways to generate income to run the facility more efficiently,” Jenkins said. “It was a great brainstorming sessions. We came up with a list of projects to work on.”
    He added there was little the town could do to with the facility during the summer months, so the group was going to concentrate on projects and events during the winter. One of the items mentioned was purchasing new hockey boards by 2013, with fundraising taking place to assist with that cost.
    “If we get new boards, we would like them to stay up (year round),” Jenkins said. “We’ll have more details as we move along.”
    Reece explained that installing and taking down the boards each year was a very labor-intensive project that takes a couple of weeks to complete.
    Councilors Cleary and Nancy Ketch took exception to the idea of leaving the boards up year round, saying the Civic Center was then only being looked at as a hockey rink as opposed to a multi-purpose facility.
    “With the boards up year round, you are basically saying we are a hockey rink,” Cleary said. “We’re losing money now. And you want to take away rentals in the summer? You’re taking away the marketing ability.”
    “It really wouldn’t prohibit us from doing anything that we do now,” Jenkins said.
    “I would think that it (leaving the boards up) would drastically reduce the type of events you could have in there,” said Ketch. “People don’t want to sit inside a hockey rink for a formal event.”
    Lori Weston, the town’s economic and community development director and former executive director of the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce, said that leaving the boards up would greatly impact the Chamber’s annual Trade Show, which is that group’s major fundraiser for the year. If the boards were left up, many of the recreational vehicles that appear in the Trade Show would not be able to set up inside the building.
    “If it’s not going to be a profitable venue for the Chamber than you are not going to get that business,” Ketch said.
    “We have to set our policy and the people can decide if they want to rent it or not,” Jenkins said. “The way it is right now, we aren’t making any money.”
    The council also agreed to support an application for the town to become certified under the state’s “Business Friendly Community” program. This program is an effort to encourage business development and growth in communities throughout Maine.
    “The first round is due April 6 and will be announced in May,” said Jon McLaughlin, executive director for the Southern Aroostook Development Corporation. “We would like to see Houlton be one of the first towns to receive this.”
    McLaughlin said, if approved, the town would receive a sign from the state and could use the designation as a “Business Friendly Community” on any marketing campaigns it chooses. There is no cost associated with the program, according to Interim Town Manager Cathy O’Leary.
    The next regular council meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 9.