HOPE, Maine — Everyone seems to be in agreement that Hope needs a new town office. What they can’t agree on is the price and scale. That sounds pretty typical for small-town government, except in Hope, where opponents of the proposal want officials to spend more on a bigger office.
The town is proposing a $295,000 project to renovate the dilapidated town office, which also holds the library and school district offices. Hope already has the money and just needs voters on Nov. 8 to approve spending the cash.
According to the town manager, the only opposition he has heard against the project is from people asking the town to spend more and maybe build an entirely new building. But most people want the renovation project to move ahead, he said.
“We can’t afford more,” said Town Manager Jon Duke. “We don’t want to borrow. We have this cash in hand and don’t have to raise taxes.”
A new building with land would cost the town about $600,000.
Last year, the town had a $100,000 surplus. It then continued to tax at the same rate and earned another $170,000 for the renovation. Combine that with a grant and some extra funds the town had from previous years and the project is paid for.
“We didn’t put that money into a special account or anything; we just didn’t touch it because we knew we had to do this,” Duke said.
In the town of 1,500, the $295,000 bill is equivalent to more than 35 percent of its annual operating budget, which this year is $836,000.
There are numerous problems with the existing building, the biggest of which is that it is not in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. For this, the town can be fined by the Department of Justice. The ramp made for wheelchair use to get into the building is made of 20-year-old wood that is rotting in places.
“When you walk down it, it bounces like a trampoline,” Duke said.
The 35-year-old cedar siding is peeling off, leaving the outer walls of the town office bare in places.
The New-Deal-era building isn’t energy-efficient and needs new insulation, doors, windows, lights and more.
The renovation effort also will raise the floor in half the building to meet the library level. Right now there is a short set of stairs to the library, but the town offices are sunk below, making ADA compliance difficult.
“An individual using a wheelchair cannot enter the building and meet with the assessor’s agent in the office and then use the bathroom facilities without being forced to go outside. This is precisely the type of situation ADA was meant to prevent, and under the law the town is obligated to remedy the deficiencies,” said a press release from the town this summer when it was holding public meetings about the issue.
About the only thing that can stay, apparently, is the roof.
“The roof is new. The roof and chimney are great. It’s everything underneath them that’s the issue,” Duke said.