HOULTON, Maine — After much discussion and some reservations, Town Councilors on Monday evening opted to take out a substantial loan to complete what some officials say are much needed projects in the community.
At the same time, several councilors said they were concerned about the cost of some of the work, the necessity of completing some projects, and the shaky financial situation with municipal, school district and state finances.
Before taking a vote, the council held a public hearing Monday on its proposal to borrow $194,000 over five years from Machias Savings Bank at an interest rate of 1.79 percent. At that rate, payments will be an estimated $44,000 per year.
They voted 4-2 to borrow the funds, with Councilors John White and Phil Cloney in opposition.
Much of the money will finance equipment purchases and repair work in various town-owned buildings. The council originally considered borrowing $250,000, but eliminated several projects to arrive at the current figure.
Among the major projects to be financed through the loan are $40,000 for repairs to the elevator in the town office and $38,000 for pavement sealing equipment for the public works department. The Police Department also is in need of a new police cruiser, which will cost $29,000. Part of the loan, $10,000, will be set aside for bathroom repairs at the Just for Kids playground building in Community Park.
At the Millar Arena, $25,000 will be placed into the hockey board replacement account and $22,000 will go for a new, computerized temperature control system. Another $12,000 will go toward replacing a compressor for the ice rink, and $1,000 will be set aside to purchase a new skate sharpener.
Various other projects, such as repairs and replacement work, also will be covered by the loan funds.
Phil Bernaiche, a Houlton resident, spoke against the borrowing package Monday evening. The only citizen to speak during the public hearing, Bernaiche said he was in favor of the council cutting spending rather than taking on a loan.
Chairman Paul Cleary said he was concerned about the cost of repairing the elevator that takes people to the second floor of the town office, which he thought was used very little. There are only two offices located on that floor, as most business is conducted on the first floor. He also wondered if the pavement sealer was necessary.
Town Manager Gene Conlogue said there was a safety issue with the elevator and it had to be repaired. He also said that the sealer got a lot of use and was worn out.
White said he felt that the town was borrowing money for items that should have been fit into the budget. He and other councilors also were concerned about how much money the town would have to contribute to the SAD 29 school budget this year. The budget is currently being constructed and will not be voted on until June or July. And the councilors were fearful about the potential impact on the town from the governor’s proposed state budget.
Several councilors also were hesitant about replacing the hockey boards at Millar Arena. Some have suggested in the past that SAD 29 should contribute some money toward the cost of replacing the boards at the facility, since students from the district play on hockey teams that are the primary users of the rink in the winter months.
Conlogue said he approached the school board about the idea, but the reception was “chilly.”
Councilor Sue Tortello said she felt the loan was the best way to approach the projects and reminded the group that each project had to be put out to bid before it was started. That means that the councilors have the option of changing their minds about completing them, or they could possibly find a bidder who could do the job at a lower than expected cost.
Cleary said that while the council voted to borrow $194,000, the town does not have to spend it all.
The first payment on the loan will be made in 2014.