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Lawrence to resign as Lincoln’s town manager, will take Florida job

Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Lincoln Town Council Chairman Steve Clay listens and Town Manager William Lawrence speaks during a council meeting on Monday, May 12, 2014.
By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

LINCOLN, Maine — Town Manager William Lawrence will resign effective July 11 to take a municipal government job in Florida, he said Wednesday.

Lawrence, 58, said the job in Florida, which he declined to describe, was difficult to resist. He had hopes of retiring in Florida, where his wife’s family resides, within a few years. Hired as Lincoln’s police chief in April 2011, Lawrence was named town manager at a salary of $70,000 in June 2013. He had served as interim manager twice before.

“It gets us closer to our dream of retirement,” Lawrence said Wednesday. “It’s bittersweet for me. I didn’t come back to Lincoln originally to be town manager. I had five- and 10-year plans and I am obviously quite shy of that. We are thinking about retirement and have the opportunity to get down there sooner.”

“We still have projects in the works,” Lawrence said of town officials. “My concern would be that they would go to the wayside, but I would hope that somebody would carry them forward.”

Lawrence said that “constant criticism” from some Town Council members also motivated him to leave. He called it his “only frustration” with the job. He declined to identify his critics or provide details but said “it is hard to play offense when you are constantly playing defense.”

“It is basically constant criticism, I guess, by some individuals. Nitpicking. It is hard to move a town forward when you’re facing that,” Lawrence added. “Some individuals want to operate town government like it was years ago instead of where it is today.”

Council Chairman Steve Clay said he knew “of a few issues” where councilors seemed to press Lawrence hard but “I am not going to get into it. That’s a tough question to answer about somebody else,” he said.

“I think it [Lawrence’s resignation] is a big loss to Lincoln. He was well-liked throughout the community,” Clay added. “On each issue, Bill hit it head on. As the problems came up, he didn’t run away from them. If he didn’t know the answer, he would find the answer. He would be honest. If he didn’t know [an answer] he would tell you.”

“He had contacts all over the state that were used to our advantage and I just hope that we could keep these things up when he is gone,” Clay added.

Lawrence has tackled large projects and handled some delicate personnel issues during his tenure as manager. Two town government department heads resigned and a public safety director was hired to replace him as chief.

Lawrence said he would hope to see town government continue with the proposals he has been nurturing:

— The widening of West Broadway for a new center turning lane that would run between Penobscot Valley Avenue and the Hannaford shopping center. A project town officials have been handling with the Maine Department of Transportation, the widening would allow 10 more business lots onto West Broadway, which with Main Street is the town’s largest business thoroughfare.

The widening project should be ready for a November referendum vote. Cost estimates aren’t yet available. Lawrence said the project’s approval would spare businesses Maine DOT traffic impact fees ranging from $70 to $250,000 depending on the size of the business.

“In the past we lost out on development because they [prospective investors in Lincoln] refused to pay the impact fees,” Lawrence said.

A Dunkin’ Donuts and S.W. Collins hardware store under construction on West Broadway and Penobscot Valley Avenue almost didn’t open due to the issue. The new lane would allow traffic to expand from its current average of 10,000 vehicles per day to 18,000 vehicles without incurring impact fees, Lawrence said.

— The creation of a shared East Millinocket-Lincoln ambulance service. Started in June 2013, the service nets Lincoln about $70,000 annually in revenue that pays firefighter salaries and equipment costs. Firefighters have disputed that all the revenue goes to them.

It is by far the largest revenue-producer Lincoln government has, Lawrence said.

— A $7.5 million natural-gas pipeline being installed from near Interstate 95’s Exit 227 along River Road through Chester to West Broadway and the Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC mill. Phase One connecting the mill is expected to be completed by this fall.

Several ensuing phases would allow gas service to West Broadway and downtown-area residents, officials have said.

— The cutting of the town’s $4.2 million municipal budget for 2014-15 to $3.68 million to save taxpayers from the impact of the layoff of about 200 workers from Lincoln Paper late last year. The town’s property tax rate should decline from $22.96 to $22.86 with the budget when the rate is set in the fall.

Lawrence has warned that unless its economic fortunes improve, Lincoln could face significant cuts to town services next year.

“You just don’t start it [initiatives] and see what happens. They have to be constantly worked before you see any kind of positive results,” he added.

Town officials are considering hiring an interim town manager to replace Lawrence, Clay said. The council will discuss the idea at its meeting on July 14.

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