HOULTON, Maine — Despite some misgivings, Town Councilors earlier this week altered a lease agreement with SAD 29 in order to give district officials more time to find new storage space for school buses.
During a brief meeting on Monday evening, the council voted to amend its bus garage lease agreement with the district and establish terms that will garner an extra $3,105 a year for the town. In return for a total payment of $8,305, SAD 29 can keep its buses inside the Public Works Department garage until July of 2013. The additional figure of $3,105 reflects 10 percent of the prior year’s utility costs for the garage.
Despite the increased rate, Councilor Mike Jenkins said he wanted the district to vacate the premises much quicker.
SAD 29 has stored its buses inside the garage for decades, but the town now needs the space for its own equipment. Officials feel their plow trucks, paving equipment and other property would last longer and require less in maintenance costs if stored indoors. The district currently 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.
During a council meeting three months ago, Jenkins said he wanted to give the district a 30-day notice to get out. He felt the town wasn’t deriving a lot of income from the agreement and also was spending a lot more on electricity than they were getting in rent.
Hazlett acknowledged that the town needed the space back, but he did not want to leave the district “out in the cold.”
Jenkins has maintained that other districts leave their buses outside in the winter, including SAD 29, which stores some of its buses on a lot next to the public works garage.
During the recent meeting, Hazlett said he felt the new agreement would give the district time to find the most cost effective space while also giving officials a solid rental figure so they can include it into the budget they are putting together.
Jenkins said he wouldn’t support the new agreement.
“I thinks its time for the school board to step up and find a place,” he said. “We can give them input, but its their problem to solve.”
Other councilors disagreed. They were worried that forcing the district to make a hasty decision on new bus space could come back to haunt the town, as Houlton taxpayers provide a substantial portion of its budget.
“A compromise makes sense,” said Councilor Sue Tortello. “I don’t believe that the bus garage rental agreement was ever a money-making thing.”
Councilor Nancy Ketch agreed.
“It’s in the best interest of the town to have space for its own equipment,” Jenkins countered. “We need to take care of our own things.”
Chairman Paul Cleary also was in favor of the agreement.
“I think the school is working on it, but it is hard because it is winter,” he said. “Let’s not force them into something that could cost us more money.”
SAD 29 has a committee working to find new space.