Caribou City Council appoints members to development committee, Nylander board

11 months ago

CARIBOU, Maine — Caribou is starting a new economic development committee and relaunching the board of the once popular Nylander Museum.

On Monday, city councilors voted 5-1 to appoint the following members to the new Caribou Development Committee: Gary Marquis and Christina Kane-Gibson to three-year terms, Troy Haney and James Nelson to two-year terms and Justin Staples to a one-year term.

That vote followed a failed motion by Councilor John Morrill to approve revisions to the committee’s ordinance that would have allowed three community members to serve instead of five.

The revisions would have also allowed a member of the Caribou Utilities District board of trustees and a member of Cary Medical Center’s board of directors to serve as members with voting privileges.

Morrill had expressed concerns over the lack of voting rights for City Manager Penny Thompson and the committee’s city council representative. He also thought that allowing too many community members on the committee could lead to conflicts of interest, especially if they are business owners.

Morrill did not single out any particular committee member nominees but cast the lone “no” vote to the motion that appointed the five new members. Councilor Mark Goughan was absent from the meeting and did not vote.

“I thought that including a few different members [from the Utilities District and Cary] would be a viable part of economic development in the city,” Morrill said.

Councilors opposing the changes said they wanted to see the committee established sooner instead of later. If the council had approved Morrill’s suggestions, they would have scheduled a June hearing to get public comments before voting to approve or reject any changes.

“We’ve delayed this long enough. Let’s get the board set up as it is currently defined,” said City Councilor Dan Bagley.

Councilors approved the appointments of Caribou Planning Board member Dave Corriveau and Caribou Economic Growth Council member Lydia Kieffer-Till to the Development Committee as members with voting privileges.

Bagley and Thompson will serve as ex-officio members without voting privileges.

Haney, owner of Haney’s Building Supplies and Spud Speedway, originally proposed the Development Committee as a new economic development tool for the city.

According to the city’s ordinance, the committee will work with city leadership to create a 10-year economic development plan, develop initiatives to support current and future business owners, work to reduce barriers to economic growth and promote development of under-utilized city property.

City councilors also appointed new members to the Nylander Museum of Natural History’s revived board of trustees.

The council voted unanimously to appoint Kane-Gibson and Travis Michaud to three-year terms, Betheny Anderson and Jason Gillis to two-year terms and Romeo Parent to a one-year term, as recommended by Museum Director Peter Baldwin.

City Mayor Jody Smith abstained from the vote because one of the appointed trustees is a family member.

The Nylander has not had a working board since the City Council voted in 2021 to abolish the previous board and appoint Public Library Director Peter Baldwin to oversee the museum’s collections.

In other business, councilors heard from Code Enforcement Officer Ken Murchison on three blighted buildings he believes pose the greatest risks to the city.

The remains of a former apartment building at 7 Water St., the result of a deadly fire in January, continues to be a void near Caribou’s downtown, Murchison said.

The owner, Brian Bickford of Lewiston, recently declared bankruptcy due to health reasons and had no insurance when the fire struck, Murchison said. As a result, the bank that had lended Bickford a loan has taken back the mortgage.

“The best scenario would be for the city to obtain [the property] through the state’s dangerous building statute,” Murchison said.
Murchison recommended taking the same steps for the home at 24 Park St., now owned by mortgage company Mr. Cooper Company and managed by CVS Asset Management. The home has been in disrepair but neither Mr. Cooper nor CVS want to demolish the property, Murchison said.

By contrast, 375 Belanger Road is a city tax-acquired property but the prior owners have remained on the property in “makeshift shacks and campers,” making them trespassers, Murchison said.

Councilors voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on June 26 regarding 7 Water St. and 24 Park St., after which they could declare the buildings dangerous under state statute.

The council will discuss with the city’s attorney whether they can legally evict the former owners of 375 Belanger Road.

Retiring code enforcement officer Ken Murchison (left) receives an award from City Mayor Jody Smith. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

Councilors honored Murchison for his decades-long service to the city as a past councilor, board member and volunteer. Murchison, who has been code enforcement officer for five years, will retire at the end of this week.

Councilors also approved a memorandum of understanding between Caribou and the local nonprofit Nurture By Nature.

Nurture By Nature is working with Caribou Parks & Recreation to start a community garden on city-owned land near the Municipal Airport.

Per the agreement, Maine Municipal Association will provide liability insurance for the city while Nurture By Nature will seek its own liability insurance for parts of the property it will manage.

The next Caribou City Council meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, June 26, in the council chambers of Caribou Municipal Building, 25 High St.

In May, councilors voted to hold one meeting per month in June, July and August instead of the typical two meetings per month.