PI Council receives updates on City Hall construction, hospital COVID-19 situation

3 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Ongoing renovations at City Hall and a local hospital’s ordeal with the COVID-19 pandemic were a few of many topics that the Presque Isle City Council discussed during its regular meeting Wednesday.

The 8-month project at City Hall , which began in May, is nearing completion on renovations to the first floor, which will include city clerk offices, general assistance, code enforcement and economic and community development.

Previously, contractors from the Eagle Lake-based Devoe Construction company installed new LED lights, heat pumps, windows and flooring, and began similar work on the second floor. 

City assessor and City Hall renovation committee member Lewis Cousins told councilors that once the state fire marshal office completes its inspection, all employees could move in as early as a few weeks and reopen to the public.

The only recent setback, Cousins noted, was the failure of the building’s electrical system after the heat pump installations.

“The system couldn’t handle the heat pumps, but we’ve installed a temporary [electric] panel,” Cousins said. “The new panel will be installed during the next holiday [Oct. 11] so there will be no disruptions to employees.”

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — September 29, 2021 — City manager Martin Puckett gives an overview of the proposed 2022 budget to Presque Isle councilors during their most recent meeting. (Melissa Lizotte | The Star Herald)

Councilors also received an update from Greg LaFrancois, president of Northern Light AR Gould Hospital, about how the hospital is dealing with the increase in COVID-19 patients. 

Since the rise of the delta variant in late summer, LaFrancois said, the hospital has steadily seen younger and sicker patients, particularly those who are unvaccinated. 

Currently the hospital’s ICU is at half capacity, with an average of four or five COVID patients daily. The average patient stay is five days for those who respond well to treatment. Thus far the increase in patients has not forced the hospital to move patients into hallways or seek out additional space in the community.

“At this point our hospital is full every day, but we feel that the situation is manageable,” LaFrancois said. 

When Councilor Mike Chasse asked about the potential trajectory of hospital patient trends, LaFrancois said that it is unclear exactly when AR Gould will experience its peak number of cases.

“This delta variant has been insidious and has done things that we didn’t anticipate,” LaFrancois said. 

To help increase local immunity, AR Gould plans to begin COVID-19 vaccine booster clinics at its North Street Healthcare facility on Oct. 12. 

The boosters are only available for the Pfizer vaccine at this time and will be prioritized for fully vaccinated people aged 65 and older, long-term care patients, people with chronic health conditions and individuals working as teachers, emergency responders and health care workers.

Ninety-six percent of AR Gould’s staff are fully vaccinated and the hospital has been in discussions with unvaccinated workers about their employment status, LaFrancois said.

Councilor Randy Smith praised AR Gould’s response to the pandemic.

“It’s amazing how well you’ve been responding to needs and doing what you’ve had to do to get through this,” Smith said. “Congratulations on making it this far.”

In other business, City Manager Martin Puckett distributed 2022 budget documents to councilors for review. The current proposed budget of $13 million marks a decrease from the 2021 budget of $14.2 million.

Puckett said that he anticipates a $183,132 reduction in the 2022 tax commitment due to increases in the state’s funding of K-12 education, revenue sharing and the Homestead Exemption. The current mill rate is 24.85 per $1,000 of property value and the proposed rate for 2022 is 24.51.

“This means that if we passed the budget as it is now, we would see a $183,132 decrease in property taxes,” Puckett said.

The city council will meet with department officials to discuss the proposed budget during three public workshops to be held Oct. 12, 13 and 14, at the Sargent Family Community Center. All workshops will begin at 5:15 p.m.

Puckett noted that budget materials will be posted on the city’s website prior to the workshops for public viewing. Though no community members spoke during Wednesday’s first budget public hearing, councilors encouraged people to attend the workshops.

“We invite the public to attend and offer their comments,” said council Chairperson Kevin Freeman.

The council also approved a medical marijuana license for Richardson Remedies, which purchased the building at 719 Main St. that formerly housed Ben’s Trading Post. 

Richardson Remedies had previously obtained a license from the city for the location of 745 Main St. but restarted the application process after declining to purchase the building there. That property currently houses the Oriental Pearl restaurant.