Opponent of plan for new Brunswick police station says she won’t launch petition drive

Posted July 19, 2012, at 12:25 p.m.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — A leading opponent of a plan to build a new Brunswick police station at the corner of Stanwood and Pleasant streets said Tuesday that she won’t launch a petition drive to force a referendum on the project.

Last week, the Town Council voted 9-0 to approve borrowing up to $5.5 million to build the 20,000-square-foot facility.

Brunswick’s charter stipulates that any municipal borrowing over $1 million must be done by a bond ordinance and any ordinance can be challenged by a citizens petition.

Such a petition, which must be requested from the town office by five residents and signed by 5 percent of the town’s voters within 20 days, would put the item out to a townwide vote. To put the $5.5 million bond ordinance to a townwide vote, petitioners would have until July 29 to submit valid signatures of 782 voters, based on the number of registered voters in Brunswick as of July 10.

Former District 4 town councilor Karen Klatt, who said after last week’s Town Council meeting that she planned to petition the council’s approval of the project, wrote in a letter Tuesday that she decided to abandon the petition attempt despite her continued opposition to the current plan and location.

In late 2010, Klatt spearheaded a petition drive that collected enough signatures to force a referendum on the Town Council’s decision to buy property at the corner of Pleasant and Stanwood streets for a police station.

In response to that petition, the Town Council rescinded its approval of the bond ordinance to buy four multiunit buildings and the underlying property, deciding instead to add more citizen representatives to the Police Station Building Subcommittee.

The council assigned that panel to launch a new study of potential locations for a new police station and other design elements.

The $5.5 million design approved by the council last week gained that committee’s unanimous recommendation after two years of meetings and design work.

In early 2011, that committee recommended that the town continue to pursue building a station at the Pleasant-Stanwood location. In April 2011, the Town Council unanimously authorized council chairwoman Joanne King to approach the Brunswick Development Corp., of which she is a member, to help purchase that property.

The BDC was established in February 1995 when the corporation borrowed $1.7 million from the town and built the Brunswick Technologies building. After repaying the town, BDC then sold the building for $3.1 million and continues to manage those funds.

In July 2011, the Brunswick Development Corp. completed its acquisition of the four properties at the location of the proposed station. The BDC used money in its accounts, not municipal funds, to buy the properties.

In December 2011, BDC president Larissa Darcy stated in a letter to the Town Council that the entity’s “intentions are limited to providing these properties to the town of Brunswick for the police station project.”

Town officials have since stated that the most likely scenario would transfer the town’s current municipal building at 28 Federal St. to the BDC in exchange for the property at the corner of Pleasant and Stanwood streets.

Last week, Town Manager Gary Brown said that an appraisal on the municipal building at 28 Federal St., which houses the town offices and the current police station, is in the works.

In Tuesday’s letter, Klatt alleges that this plan for acquiring the land “ignored” the 2010 petition that challenged the council’s passage of a bond ordinance to borrow more than $1 million to buy the land at the corner of Pleasant and Stanwood streets.

Following Klatt’s most recent opposition to the police station project, town officials expressed frustration at assertions that the plans were crafted without opportunities for public comment or input along the way.

“We worked in an open setting for two years on this where people don’t show up and then the night we take a vote, they say they didn’t have a chance to participate,” King told The Times Record earlier this week.

In her letter, Klatt also expressed concern that if voters in a petition-initiated referendum rejected the police station bond, then a less desirable commercial development could be built on the site.

“This could be worse for the people living nearby,” Klatt said.

However, the letter submitted to the council by the current owner, the BDC, does not set a time limit on its intent to transfer the property to the town for use as a police station.

Referring to her previous petition effort to force a vote on the land purchase, Klatt wrote that she believes “further work won’t make any difference on this issue.”

Klatt also expressed frustration with the level of citizen involvement throughout the process, writing that “until more taxpayers wake up and decide that they should have a voice in local politics, nothing will change.”

At the July 9 meeting during which the council approved the $5.5 million bond ordinance, King announced that she would not seek re-election this year to her at-large seat on the council. In 2009, King defeated Klatt to win her latest three-year term on the council.

In an email to The Times Record, Klatt wrote that she has no plans to run for a seat on the council during elections this year.

Town Manager Gary Brown said that crews working with construction managers from Ledgewood Associates could break ground on the police station project as early as October.

To see more from the Times Record visit timesrecord.com

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