Houlton changes, to-do list grows

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff
Posted Aug. 20, 2009, at 8:58 p.m.

HOULTON, Maine — Right now, residents and visitors are watching the town transform as a number of local and state roads are repaved, bridges are being worked on, and a $2.5 million housing complex is being constructed downtown.

While the town welcomes the projects, there are many more that they have been trying to get done for years. With new projects popping up everyday, town councilors are working on a way to find the money to pay for the work before buildings and equipment become so eroded that it costs even more money to make them right again.

During a recent council meeting, Town Manager Doug Hazlett presented the municipality’s capital plan, as he is required to do each year. The report lists the projects the town hopes to complete in the near future, but does not identify ways to pay for them.

As a service center community, the town works hard to maintain its roads and sidewalks, keep equipment available and upgraded for use by police, public works crews, firefighters and other town employees and sustain its office buildings and recreation facilities. It all comes at a cost, and when things start to break down, the town does not always have the money to repair them right away.

This year’s list contains old and new projects that the community is looking to complete, Hazlett told councilors.

The manager noted that the town has made upgrades to buildings in the last few years, painting facades and replacing heating systems to make them more energy-efficient.

“We are in pretty good shape in terms of buildings,” he said.

He pointed out that he had added a new category, computer equipment, to the plan this year.

The municipality uses a lot of computers, particularly in the Police Department and town office.

“We need to keep those upgraded, and we will have to find the money to do so,” Hazlett said. “We are exploring ways to get grant money to help with some of that.”

The town also needs to repair its tennis courts, which are located in Community Park and at the Gentle Memorial Building. Inside that building, the town has been trying to repair the gym floor for several years. A chunk of the needed money was set aside several years ago, but the town has struggled to come up with the rest.

The biggest issue in terms of projects, Hazlett said, has to do with the Public Works Department.

The manager told councilors that the department has a great deal of old equipment that needs to be replaced, including plow trucks. In the past few years, the town has financed a new street sweeper and already has budgeted for a sidewalk snowplow. Still, Hazlett said, more needs to be done.

Councilors told Hazlett that they realized the extent of the problem. Chairman Paul Cleary said that he feared that continuing to delay projects would “catch up to us.”

“We cannot keep putting this stuff off,” Cleary said. “We need all of this equipment, and we need to keep investing in the town.”

The council voted to accept the capital plan, and potential funding for projects likely will be discussed when the town’s budget committee meets at the end of the year.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/08/20/news/houlton-changes-todo-list-grows/ printed on December 17, 2014