City officials discuss goals during annual workshop
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — City Council met March 30 at the Northeastland Hotel for their annual goal-setting workshop. City Manager Jim Bennett, citing several projects already in the works in the Star City, said this year’s list would be considerably shorter than in past years.
“Unlike years past, with the accumulation of some of the most difficult multi-year large projects coming to reality this year, I have elected to keep the potential list smaller than usual. We have established, over the last few years, a hearty appetite to accomplish a lot. The track record shows that. This year is probably a year to focus on the ongoing projects and limit the additional suggestions,” said Bennett.
Among the ongoing significant projects, Bennett included the Community Center, City Hall, ice-making equipment at the Forum, adjusting the 2015 budget based on the state budget, and labor negotiations.
Bennett discussed internal work plans of city departments that require “minimal or no direct involvement by Council.” Departments referenced included: finance, public works, solid waste, library, airport, planning and development, assessing and human resources.
The city manager said two departments — police and fire — were looking for ways to address staffing concerns.
“The PIPD is pursuing grant funding for a patrol position to try to increase staffing of the department by one person, in order to have a dedicated detective again. The decision to accept the grant would come back to City Council for approval. They’re also looking to upgrade their evidence handling process and improve their dispatch space,” said Bennett.
Leadership training will also be needed at PIPD, since all major ranks — deputy chief and two sergeants — are eligible to retire within 12 months.
“The vast majority of the staff is under three years of service. A major undertaking is to get the next level of leadership prepared to assume rank, should any retirements occur,” he said.
Bennett explained how the PIFD plans to address staffing concerns as well.
“Beyond just doing a promotional effort, we are putting the finishing touches on a new mentoring program to assist new members that have no former training or exposure to firefighting,” said Bennett.
He said the PIFD also plans to: run a local firefighter I and II program; grow the per-diem eligible program; expand the fire prevention for the elderly program; increase code enforcement information availability; continue to pursue grants; and offer a community fire academy to educate the public on what the department does and how to prevent fires.
Bennett had six suggestions for new goals councilors and city officials could pursue. Among them were: an incentive-based historical preservation plan; upgrading broadcast and access to public meetings; and considering whether to keep or eliminate the grant writing and funding position.
Three additional topics garnered more discussion between Bennett and councilors, including: creating a volunteer day which city employees would be encouraged to come up with a cause, with one day this summer set aside for them to volunteer on a project. They also discussed incentives for first-time homebuyers,
“We’d take money from the Presque Isle Development Fund to see if we can help first-time homebuyers in the community. Fort Fairfield has money they use to encourage first-time buyers. Given our older population, this might be worth trying as a pilot project,” said Bennett.
Councilor Pete Hallowell said “There is $1 million in the fund, so let’s try it as a pilot program. This would be a loan. If the home is sold, we’d take a junior position behind the bank. If they live in the home within a certain period of time, they wouldn’t have to pay back.”
Bennett said the cool thing about this would be the city would partner with a couple of local banks.
“I’ll meet with Pete, then meet with local bankers. They’d do the administrative end, bring the loan to us,” said Bennett.
The last item on the “new” list involved a downtown trial of converting Main Street to three lanes.
“It’s been suggested that the repaving of Main Street might be a perfect time to try the three-lane idea,” said Bennett. “If ever there was a time to do without committing, this is the time to do it.”
Councilor Craig Green said in talking with downtown business owners, safety continues to be a top concern.
“In my mind, this is our opportunity — could see if changing the dynamic works,” said Green.
Councilor Mike Chasse, whose family owns a business on Main Street, said he thought it was a good idea.
Bennett acknowledged he wasn’t sure the state would even sign off on such a plan.
“If we paint the lines, we’d have to wait half a year to paint over the old. Only way I see in my mind to make it work is to put those plastic things down,” Bennett said.
“If it comes from the bottom up — Downtown Revitalization Committee, for example — it will more easily be accepted than if it comes from us,” said Councilor Dick Engels.
Green said a lot would be happening downtown in the next five to 10 years.
“Storm drains will have to be dug up, trees replaced, sidewalks repaired. With this experiment, we’ll know immediately — when replacing sidewalks, we’ll know if we can have cafes on the sidewalk. This is the opportunity to experiment, if we want to do it,” said Green. “I’m willing to ask the public for their input.”
“What we’re potentially saying is we’ll start from the bottom. I think it’s a worthwhile plan, if it comes to us from the public,” said Engels.
Councilors ended the meeting discussing some of the significant changes that have occurred in the city in the past five years, including: stabilizing the tax rate, restructuring of departments, and a complete energy analysis of all city buildings. For more information about city goals or Council’s recent meeting, call 760-2785.