HOULTON, Maine — Town councilors have put the brakes on a plan to ask officials in SAD 29 to quickly find a new place for their school buses, fearing that forcing them to find new storage space could be a costly move for the district and the town.
During a meeting on Monday evening, councilors opted to impose no time limits and let Town Manager Doug Hazlett work with SAD 29 Superintendent Mike Hammer to come up with a new space for their school buses.
The district has stored its buses at the town’s Public Works Department garage for decades, but town officials now say they need the indoor space for their own equipment. Officials feel the equipment such as plow trucks, paving equipment and other property would last longer and require less in maintenance costs if it could be stored indoors. Hazlett said the district pays the town $5,200 a year for the storage space, but that figure doesn’t include the heating or electricity costs for the garage bays. The buses aren’t required to be stored inside, as the district stores a number of its buses outside of the Houlton garage, and buses that pick up students from Littleton and Monticello have been stored outside in the past as well.
Hazlett said on Monday evening that no one seems to know who came up with the $5,200 figure, it just always has “been that way.”
During the last meeting two weeks ago, Councilor Mike Jenkins said he favored giving the district 30 days to vacate the space. He noted that the town doesn’t derive a lot of income from the month-by-month lease deal, adding that other towns keep their buses outside all winter. He asked that a decision be made on Monday evening.
During the Monday evening meeting, Chairman Paul Cleary said he didn’t feel putting the district out of the garage with just a month’s notice was a good idea. He acknowledged that the town is losing money on electricity and heating costs, but he suggested that the town might revise the amount it is charging the district until it finds a new place to store the buses.
“That could cover the costs while they are there, and then we can also give them a date when the lease would end,” he said, adding that Hazlett and Hammer could come to a workable solution and then bring it to the council for a vote.
Cleary also noted that a hasty decision could come back to haunt the town.
“If the district has to build a half-a-million-dollar bus garage, the town is going to have to pay for some of that,” he added, noting that the town contributes a big chunk of taxpayer dollars to SAD 29.
Councilor Nancy Ketch agreed, saying that forcing the district into such a move almost would be comparable to the town charging itself.
Hazlett has said he realizes that the town needs the space back, but he does not want to leave the district “out in the cold.”
Hammer, who attended the meeting, was appreciative of the extended time span.
“SAD 29 has a transportation and facilities committee working to find a solution,” he said. “There are options. I appreciate not being kicked out in the middle of winter.”