Caribou moves ahead with proposals for ARPA-funded projects

3 weeks ago

CARIBOU, Maine – The Caribou City Council voted to move ahead with a project to expand city sewer lines and keep a longstanding business in town.

Chadwick-BaRoss, a New England-based new and used heavy equipment dealer, wants to expand its Caribou location on Main Street with a new building but existing sewer infrastructure would not accommodate such growth. 

Caribou is hoping to receive at least $223,000 from Aroostook County’s ARPA grant program to expand existing sanitary sewer lines by 3,000 feet to assist Chadwick-BaRoss’ plans. 

The city originally hoped to expand the lines to the Caribou Utilities District’s largest lift station near Route 1. But when quotes came in from contractors, the project’s final cost inched closer to $1 million, said City Manager Penny Thompson.

Though the city can still pursue the full project if Caribou receives more grant funding, it would be more feasible to start with a smaller sewer line expansion to a manhole near Donie Street. The city would still need to match $223,000 with the county’s ARPA contribution, but that would allow the project to get started, Thompson said.

“If we don’t commit our funds before [submitting the county ARPA grant application], we’ll lose the ARPA funds,” Thompson said.

Chadwick-BaRoss has said they would commit $75,000 toward the project, while Caribou Utilities District would contribute an initial $2,000 to get things started, Thompson noted.

Troy Haney, chairperson of the Caribou Development Committee, urged city officials to pursue funds that could lead to the originally proposed larger sewer line expansion.

The land where Chadwick-BaRoss wants to expand includes at least 25 to 30 acres that a local developer owns, which would be viable for new commercial and residential development. Keeping Chadwick-BaRoss in Caribou would make that land more likely to have future growth, Haney said.

“It’s important that we find a way to keep them in Caribou. Developable land is few and far between,” Haney said.

Caribou councilors also agreed to let the city apply for $100,000 in county ARPA funds to purchase five new stretchers for Caribou Fire & Ambulance and a new multimedia recorder system for Caribou Police Department and Caribou Fire & Ambulance. Councilors allocated matching funds in the 2024 municipal expense budget.

City councilors voted to table discussions on establishing a local land bank until Thompson can research potential benefits and challenges, and speak with officials from other communities.

In 2022, the Legislature established the Maine Redevelopment Land Bank Authority to help municipalities redevelop vacant properties. The Authority formed at a time when communities across Maine have become more concerned with cleaning up vacant properties, which often sit abandoned and blighted for many years, and building more affordable housing.

Caribou has dealt with several problem properties in recent years, many of which the city has acquired through unpaid taxes or attempted to demolish through dangerous building declarations. 

A land bank could allow the city to transfer blighted and/or tax-acquired properties to a local nonprofit, like Caribou’s Business Investment Group, for potential rehabilitation or resale, said City Councilor Dan Bagley.

But new federal and state laws now require municipalities to sell tax-acquired properties through a real estate agent and possibly resell to the original owner after recouping the cost of back taxes, advertisements and legal fees, noted Councilor Joan Theriault.

“If the rest of the money goes back to the landowner, I don’t see how we could put any into a land bank fund,” Theriault said.

Bagley noted that state law still allows municipalities to retain property for public use or convey land to a nonprofit rather than sell through a realtor. 

City Mayor Courtney Boma said that she spoke with a Sanford official about that city’s land bank but recommended that Thompson have further discussions with them before the council votes.

In other business, councilors approved downtown facade improvement grants of $500 for Glass With Class on Herschel Street, $2,000 for Thrive Body Spa on Sweden Street and $1,000 for Kieffer Real Estate on High Street.

The council agreed to create a second facade improvement category for businesses in the RC-2 tax increment financing district, which goes from South Main Street to Doyle Road just before the Presque Isle city line. Applications for facade grants within the RC-2 district will be due Friday, April 12.

The next Caribou City Council meeting will be held Monday, April 22 at 6 p.m. at Caribou Municipal Building, 25 High St.