Business leaders blast Lincoln council on proposed $2.4 million garage

Posted Oct. 19, 2010, at 11:02 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:28 a.m.

LINCOLN, Maine — Some of Lincoln’s most prominent business owners gave the Town Council a gust of taxpayer frustration on Monday and probably blew away plans to spend $2.4 million on a new town garage.

All agreed that the proposed design was excellent, a new garage overdue and the workers who would use it exemplary, but most of the 50 public hearing attendees said $2.4 million was just too much to pay.

“As council people, you need to think about the people you represent,” said April Burnell of Burnell & Bradgon Real Estate of Lincoln. “You can’t build a house to match the average income in this town, $36,000, because of town taxes — they [would-be buyers] can’t afford it.”

Burnell, Thomas Gardner of the logging company W.T. Gardner & Sons Inc., Peter Lyons of Lincoln Color Center and Lincoln’s Sears outlet, Mark L. Helsor of Mark L. Helsor & Sons contractors and Brian Souers of Treeline Inc. trucking were among the entrepreneurs who questioned the garage’s price.

A workable garage should cost about $1 million, Gardner said, an estimate that project designers from Ames Associates of Bangor found unlikely. They said public buildings follow building codes requiring features, such as disability access, that are more expensive than those found elsewhere.

Located on Park Avenue, the present public works garage has for years bled heat and lacked adequate storage and workspace, a lunch area and disability access, town leaders have said. They fear it would fail all inspections.

Yet replacement attempts have failed. In November 2008, voters rejected building a garage for $675,000 with a vote of 1,175 to 1,117.

Speaking one after another Monday, the owners criticized the project’s expense and its likely impact on taxes, which Town Manager Lisa Goodwin estimated at $72 per $100,000 of property. They said business profits, property values and government services have declined, taxes have risen and the town’s population has remained static. Lyons estimated his taxes have climbed 600 percent in 13 years.

“This is not an excellent time to be raising taxes on people,” Bragdon said. “With the average income in this town, people can’t afford another $100 in taxes.”

One hearing participant wondered why anyone would think that a $2 million proposal would pass in next month’s election when a less-expensive plan already failed.

“That building is not Lincoln,” one participant said.

Ames Associates owners Brian Ames and Ellen Angel said their design was basic and economical but not as thrifty as Lincoln taxpayers. Garage Building Committee members Shaun Drinkwater and Councilor Michael Ireland said no one should blame the architects for the design.

“The responsibility for this is ours,” Drinkwater said.

“It might be too big or too overpriced, but we did it to the best of our ability,” Ireland said.

Drinkwater said planning began with basic department requirements and was winnowed from there. David Lloyd, the town’s public works director, said the proposal lacks many features that workers would have found useful.

By itself, the proposed building would cost about $1.7 million. Public building code requirements, contractor and architect fees, items that town workers thought would greatly improve efficiency — an oil-changing pit and a crane for example — renovating the old garage as storage space and about $300,000 in site work drove the price to more than $2 million, Ames said.

The new garage would last as many as 50 years, accommodate town expansion for at least 10 years and probably cost less than $2 million, given the economy, Ames said. Good ideas, such as having town workers do site work and eliminating all site paving, will trim the project’s cost further, he said.

Angel said she found it ironic that the project’s price tag generated such sticker shock.

Now would be the best time to build a new garage economically. Delaying a decision or doing the job piecemeal likely will cost taxpayers more than a one-time, comprehensive expenditure, she said.

Any garage plan, Goodwin said, will force an increase in taxes or a cut in town services. Councilors agreed that the present garage’s condition makes further delay unwise.

They will revisit the subject in a special session at 7 p.m. on Monday.

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