Billows of thick, acrid smoke blanketed much of Scarborough’s shoreline from the Spurwink River to Prout’s Neck for much of the midday on Friday, April 14. A reverse-911 call to residents from the Scarborough Fire Department reported that the smoke was from a “controlled burn” on Richmond Island off Cape Elizabeth by the Maine Forest Service. The message stated that the smoke was “not an emergency situation.”
We beg to differ. Folks with breathing issues in particular disagreed.
But another group was even more seriously impacted – our beloved piping plover population. With their tiny lung capacity and inherent survivability issues, the little guys were devastated by the toxic plume. The bird wardens at Higgins Beach were beside themselves running from plover to plover administering CPR and Narcan and generally comforting their enfeebled flock.
Chief Executive of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Plover Bureau Laurent Vogeljaeger said the situation was dire. “This is worse than the weasel invasion of 2007 or the great tidal wash-out of 2015. These little birds have enough challenges already without the Maine Forest Service smoking them out,” he said, apparently referring to the limited intelligence of the species.
(A.A. Milne memorably referred to the lovable Pooh Bear as a bear “of Very Little Brain.” The same characterization might well apply to our favorite avian summer visitors. And we’ve always half-suspected that the impassioned interest of ornithologists in the plovers may have something to do with the species’ migratory pattern of overwintering in the Cayman Islands… it makes for a nice spot to do a few weeks of “field work” along about January and February.)
As soon as the smoke began rolling in, Vogeljaeger contacted Dr. Anthony Shah at the Centers for Avian Disease Control in Washington for assistance. “Fortunately,” said Shah, “plovers wear the same size N95 mask as bats, and we had just received a new shipment of the masks from Wuhan at our Chevy Chase warehouse. Unfortunately, though, the masks intended for Richmond Island, Maine, ended up being expedited to Richmond Island, Washington. By the time the error was discovered, it was too late,” Shah lamented.
State officials are reportedly at a loss on how to compensate the remaining plover population for the controlled burn catastrophe. We shudder to think what they may come up with. In any case, our best wishes to the little guys. Rock on, little puffballs!
It’s good to be back!
Well, friends and neighbors, it’s been a while since we’ve been in touch. Thanks to those who reached out with wellness-checks. It’s been a hectic several months in old Scarborough Town and we’ve been preoccupied with tilting at the windmills of Town governance. (Without much luck, as you know if you’ve been following the Town Hall capers.)
But springtime brings a renewed sense of hope and purpose. So we have sharpened our metaphorical sword and plan to rush headlong into the battle against the forces of unlimited growth but limited commonsense.
Our next two issues are rapidly taking shape now and will be launched on an unsuspecting public in the near future:
In one issue we’ll reveal the first known case in New England of Municipal ADHD. This condition, typically found in much larger cities, is characterized by elected and appointed officials being unable to focus on the core functions of the municipal operations or the concerns of their constituents. We’ll explore the symptoms, the diagnosis and treatment of this debilitating condition that impacts us all.
In the other issue, we’ll take you inside the Fiscal 2024 Town and School budgets. You’ll get a firsthand look at some of the many gimmicks, schemes and ploys that have been secreted in this year’s budget. Watch your tax dollars dance! Prepare to be amazed!
That’s all for now, folks. Happy trails until we meet again!
(Blog name of Steve Hanly, who is solely responsible for the above contents.)
(And just for the record, the blog is parody. Perhaps not good parody, but parody nevertheless.)
Well, friends and neighbors, it’s that silly season in Scarborough once again. Halloween is behind us and we move on to the election, the highlight of which is the $12.9 million Library bond referendum. By now you probably know the talking points on both sides of the issue:
For the expansion: The Library is the heart and soul of the community, and our Library is not as big as some other Maine towns on a population-adjusted basis. (Edifice envy, according to Freud?) Lots of hearts and flowers but very few specifics justifying going from 13,000 square feet to 35,000 square feet. In essence, it’s an expensive makeover in an attempt to deal with the changing public usage patterns of libraries everywhere.
Against the expansion: At 2.7 times its current size, it’s too damn big. It’s an unnecessary and expensive makeover – especially in view of overwhelming resident satisfaction with the current Library. There are some legitimate, modest space needs but nothing remotely approaching what has been proposed. Including interest on the bonds, the total cost to taxpayers is more than $23 million. And even a modest tax increase resulting from the Library will seem much larger next November when voters have a $150-ish million elementary school project on the ballot.
For a succinct review of the many reasons this expansion is a bad deal for Scarborough residents, please take a look at the recent newsletter from our friends at SMARTaxes [link here]. Or check out the short WMTW news report [link here]. (And notice how quiet the Library seems in the video…)
But for the story behind the story, please read on!
How Did the Library Go from 13,000 to 35,000 square feet?
To many who have looked at the Library’s promotional materials, this is the most troubling question of all. As you can see in the graphic above, the size of the proposed expansion ballooned in two years.
So what caused the huge increase in the size of the proposed new building? A review of Library Board minutes and building committee meeting minutes doesn’t state the reasons, just notes the “consensus” for the size growing in 5,000 square foot increments over time.
At one meeting in May, 2021, when the 30,000 square foot size was holding the high bid, it was noted that: “The 30,000 sq ft proposal maxes out the current site but it is also in the lower range of square footage for towns of this size.” [Emphasis added.] In other words, relative size rather than programmatic needs seemed to be driving the decision on building size. Later that meeting, the 35,000 square foot consensus won out. We looked carefully for any mention of the financial impact that 5,000 square foot increase would have, but found none. Answer: At a construction cost of about $400 per square foot that’s $2 million. But, hey, it’s only taxpayers’ money!
So What’s Really in the New Library?
That seems like a logical question. The answer is “nobody knows.” Or perhaps more to the point “nobody is saying.” While the Library claims transparency, the plans that appear online [link here] are described as “an early draft of our proposed floor plan,” i.e., they’re not committing to anything. You’ll see that the plans are so small as to be difficult to read. They provide no size scale or room/area dimensions. And they have clearly been “sanitized” to eliminate any potentially controversial spaces.
What controversial spaces, you may well ask? Well, here are a few features that have been mentioned or discussed at building design meetings [link here] over the past 2-3 years:
Indoor bike rack for employees (12/16/19 meeting)
Employee shower (12/16/19)
A “modest” café (6/30/21)
Meeting room “to host musical events with an acoustical supportive space” (6/30/21)
Two kitchens — one for the staff and one for the large public meeting room (10/19/21)
An upgrade of the elevator so that it could accommodate moving a grand piano to the “acoustical supportive” space on the second floor (02/11/22)
Please note that we were unable to determine which, if any, of the above features are currently planned for the new Library. We’ll just have to wait and see if it gets built.
Then there’s the matter of the cozy fireplace that has long been the subject of speculation. As you’ll see in the image below, the Library remains coy (wink, wink) about this feature. Someone should let them know that coy is not a good look. But if the bond passes, let’s meet at the fireplace for s’mores 😉
Stonewalling — A great Scarborough Tradition
Long-time LookOutScarborough readers are well aware of how hard it can be to pry information that should be public out of the reluctant hands of some public officials. The Library expansion has been a poster child example of information withholding.
Legally, the Library is a separate entity from the Town although almost all its funding comes from the Town. So far the Town has provided the Library with $390,000 to plan and design a Library expansion. Those funds were used to engage architects (Simons Architects) and a prominent library design firm (Library Planning Associates/Anders Dahlgren) in the space planning and design process. The reports by these firms should provide the justification for the massive size of the proposed new Library. Yet despite the fact that taxpayer funds were used to produce the reports, the Library has refused to make them available to the public.
Your editor first requested the reports via email on October 4 and has followed up diligently ever since. Nothing yet. He expects to receive them shortly after the polls close on November 8. Some things never change!
The Elephant in the Room
It’s hardly a secret that the business models for libraries everywhere have been turned on their heads by the digital age. Physical books, while still hanging on, are not the main drivers of either library space needs or patron visits. Libraries are struggling to reinvent themselves in a world of virtual information resources. In many cases, like in Scarborough, that means becoming more like a “community center” than a traditional library.
According to the February 17, 2022 Library Board minutes, Library Director Nancy Crowell said the quiet part out loud to the Board during a discussion of how a presentation to the Town Council had gone: “Nancy cautioned us to be careful not to emphasize our online and virtual features as they do not make a good argument for more physical space.” Truer words were never spoken!
Not only that, but Library President William Donovan has stated that: “You would think libraries would be immune to public criticism.” That’s right, scrutiny or criticism of Library projects is not allowed! Every Library plan should get the open-wallet treatment from taxpayers… just take what you want, Library.
Yes, at a time when library space needs in general are facing historic declines, we are being asked to commit to a massive $16 million expansion of Library space. And not allowed to ask questions about it. There’s something very “Scarborough” about this, isn’t there?
The Library Expansion as a Metaphor
Somehow we can’t help but think about this project as just another expression of the ill-considered growth-without-limits strategy that some Town officials seem intent on pursuing (and the majority of residents be damned!). How can the fastest growing town in Maine have a Library with per resident square footage that’s less than our peers? How embarrassing! Never mind that only 2% of residents are dissatisfied with our current Library. Appearances must be kept up, no matter what the cost!
Growth and glitz are our new municipal core values. Time to shed that boring late-20th century attitude of a practical, laid back and contented suburb. Faster! Bigger! Denser! Better! Residents who don’t like it can always move.
And let’s not even get started on the total breakdown of long-range (or even short-range) facility planning that has brought us to this point with the Library. How are we having this referendum before there has been any meaningful discussion of the affordability and priority of the other two major projects that are currently being actively planned – the $150 million elementary school and the $50 million pool/community center? That’s obviously a rhetorical question… the reason is that such a discussion would undoubtedly put the Library expansion as a lower priority than the elementary school resulting in the Library project being delayed a few more years. “But it’s the Library’s turn!” And they’re milking it for all it’s worth!
Finally, isn’t financial planning one of the Town Manager’s primary functions? How does he continue to get away with not doing his job?
Ahh, the repeating themes of municipal life in Scarborough! Take deep breaths and imagine a happier place.
The Library’s expansion website is full of images apparently meant to evoke the kind of spaces to be created and problems to be solved. Here are a couple of favorites… with our annotations:
Remember to vote on November 8 at the High School! If you don’t, they’ll be serving pumpkin spice lattes and apple crisp oatmilk macchiatos at the Library before you know it!
That’s all for now, folks. Happy trails until we meet again. Until then…
Today’s Scarborough adventure is based on two recent reports of heroic actions by members of the Police Department. And we can’t imagine two more different views of the Town from these reports. From heart-warming to bone-chilling in the blink of an eye.
Let’s begin with heart-warming… one of those “I must be in Mayberry” kind of moments. You know, the kind of story Town Manager Tom Hall and his relentless PR team like to splash all over social media and the front page of the Leader.
Here’s an excerpt from the May 6-12 Police Department Weekly Report:
On 05/11 officers responded to the area of 200 Route 1 for what was initially reported as a possible motor vehicle accident involving a pedestrian. It was quickly learned that no one was hit by a car, but that a citizen was by the roadway trying to help some ducklings that had fallen down a storm drain.
Officers Shawn Anastasoff and Sgt. Craig Hebert called for backup in the form of Department of Public Works employee Dan Desimio who responded with a net. Dan was able to retrieve the ducks and delivered them back to mom who had refused to leave the area without her babies. A special thanks to our officers and a well deserved great job DPW employee Dan Desimio!
Hats off to those involved in this rescue! We’re awarding the maximum of five fuzzy bunny rabbit tails to this feel-good story!
On to the Darker Side
The other PD report was also of heroic activity, but in a much darker setting just down the road from the duckling incident. Here’s an excerpt from the PD Weekly Report for April 29-May 5:
On December 9, 2021, Officer Holly Thompson was dispatched to the Comfort Inn for a reported drug overdose. Upon arrival, Officer Thompson located a male and female in a hotel room. The male was unconscious, unresponsive, and had irregular breathing.
Officer Thompson had equipped herself with NARCAN while other officers on scene prepared an AED. Officer Thompson administered Narcan to the male. Within several minutes, the male’s breathing became stronger and his skin color returned to normal. The male became conscious and was provided further medical aid.
Due to Officer Thompson’s expeditious Narcan deployment and calm demeanor during a stressful situation, the male fully recovered.
Congratulations to Officer Thompson on receiving the Life Saving Award!
Comfort Inn Homeless Shelter Update
At the May 18 Town Council meeting we learned even more disturbing details of the situation at the Comfort Inn on Route 1 near the entrance to The Downs.
+ A representative of The Downs noted that they were receiving reports from residents of used needles in and around residential buildings near Route 1.
+ One resident of The Downs said that she and other parents of high school students are not allowing their kids to walk along Route 1 by the Comfort Inn out of concern for their safety.
+ There appear to be no meaningful support programs in place at the Comfort Inn as are found in well-managed homeless shelters.
+ The Chief of Police acknowledged that there are registered sex offenders staying at the Comfort Inn, but he has no way of knowing if all of the sex offenders currently residing there are in compliance with their required reporting of their residence.
When does a hotel become a homeless shelter?
Based on public discussions, here’s our best summary of what’s going on at the Comfort Inn from a financial/operational perspective. The hotel owner has a contract with Opportunity Alliance of Portland to house individuals at the hotel through October 31, 2022. (The reason that the hotel’s license application stated that there are no such contracts was glossed over in the meeting.) Opportunity Alliance appears to be paying the hotel a flat daily rate per room. The source of Opportunity Alliance’s funding was not disclosed at the meeting. If Opportunity Alliance is providing any of the many types of program support that typically are associated with a homeless shelter, they certainly weren’t noted at the Town Council meeting.
It is critical to understand that, except for shelters for unaccompanied youths, homeless shelters are not licensed by Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services. Nor does Maine Housing license homeless shelters. Maine Housing does have robust program requirements for when it funds homeless shelters operated by others. But Maine Housing does not appear to be funding the Comfort Inn arrangement.
The key take-away here: Homeless shelter licensing is the responsibility of local municipalities. As a (frightening) result, the Comfort Inn is essentially operating a homeless shelter in Scarborough with no meaningful oversight by the Town or anyone else.
Other Maine communities have recognized the lack of State oversight and established or updated their own ordinances to regulate, oversee or license homeless shelters. Portland, South Portland, Brunswick, Lewiston and Farmington are among them. But not Scarborough. It’s unfortunate that the Town Manager has been so busy fanning the flames of residential growth that he apparently didn’t have time to prepare Scarborough for this very foreseeable issue.
More homeless encampments?
Even as the homeless shelter issue remains unresolved, the likelihood of more and larger homeless encampments looms in Scarborough. What? You didn’t know we already have at least two homeless encampments in Town? We only know that there are multiple encampments because of a report noting that the Police Department’s Social Services Navigator recently made “outreach to one of the local homeless encampments.”
So how many encampments are there? Two? Four? More? We’ve heard about the area behind Marden’s for some time but we don’t know the other locations.
We hope that the Town Manager is on top of this potential issue – which has obvious public safety implications, both for those encamped and Scarborough residents who may be impacted by them.
Next steps… better late than never
What’s next in the course of the Town’s all-too-rapid introduction to the many challenges of homelessness? We wish we knew. At their meeting, the Town Council tabled the Comfort Inn’s hotel license renewal application… which appeared to be on its way to rejection. Apparently the Council will reconsider the application at its June 8 meeting. But there was no discussion of what will happen in the meantime.
If they effectively close down the Comfort Inn by revoking its innkeepers license, what happens to the 65-70 folks who are currently housed there? Do they get a ride back to Portland? Or do we expand our current homeless encampments? It’s clearly a very complex problem, and one that deserves much more public discussion than it has received.
It was also disappointing that there was no consideration of holding a workshop on the broader issue of homelessness in Scarborough so that residents could have a basic understanding of the scope of the issue and possible solutions. Equally disappointing was the lack of even a suggestion of creating an ordinance for licensing homeless shelters.
We’ll have to wait until June 8 for answers. We’ll keep you posted.
That’s all for now. We hope to have less disturbing news to report in our next blog post!
Oh, and, Andy, be sure to say hello to Aunt Bea for us!
In the last blog posting, we highlighted the Comfort Inn on Route 1 near the entrance to the Downs and how it seemed to be attracting significant police attention. And now we have some shocking details of what’s been going on there recently. Rather than delay the sharing of this important information until the next blog, we wanted to get it to you in this special bulletin.
Here’s the Police Department’s summary of calls to the Comfort Inn between January 1 and May 12, 2022:
That’s right, 187 police calls in 19 weeks. Just about 10 calls per week. And most of these weren’t for cat-in-the-tree situations. Frightening, isn’t it? Welcome to the new, vibrant Scarborough!
So what’s a resident to do other than sigh and recall simpler times? Well, it turns out that the Comfort Inn’s lodging license is up for renewal by the Town Council at their meeting this Wednesday, May 18, at 7pm. This includes a public hearing at which residents can voice their opinion as to whether the license should be renewed or not. These renewals are generally a mere formality. But perhaps this one shouldn’t be. Look at the list of police calls again. And imagine what other even more serious crimes could be added to it the next time a list is produced.
If you can’t make it to the Town Council meeting on Wednesday evening, it’s very easy to share your thoughts with all Town Council members by sending one email to: email@example.com.
Remember, it’s your Town! Let’s keep it safe and welcoming!
Until next time…
(nom de blog of Steve Hanly)
PS: We have not forgotten about the promised expose of how Scarborough really works. It had to be put temporarily on the back burner due to this and other unexpected issues. Fear not, it’s coming soon… and will be worth the wait!
Welcome to the spring season, friends and neighbors! The season of growth and new beginnings. As you know, Scarborough has been growing like crazy for the past couple of years. And, now, rather than slowing down, things are definitely speeding up. Is there a limit, you may well ask?
Well, we think there is. Please read on and we’ll tell you why.
When pushed too far, Scarborough residents can be a feisty bunch. We hold the State record for voting down school budget referendums. In 2018 we recalled three School Board members for not listening to the concerns of the public. And we’ve witnessed the recent resident-driven revolts in Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth on housing and growth issues. How much more uncontrolled residential growth will we tolerate before our collective patience snaps?
The big picture – an update
The chart above shows the out-of-control housing growth the Town has experienced since 2017. Three times as many housing units were added in the five years between 2017 and 2021 as were added in the previous five years. And the number (and proportion) of apartment units has skyrocketed.
About three years ago, Town leaders became uneasy with the level of growth and decided that something had to be done. That something was the “Growth Management Ordinance” (“GMO”) revision passed in in May, 2021. The new GMO has proved to be spectacularly ineffective in slowing growth.
Why is that? The new GMO allows for the construction of 144 new housing units each year, a modest and manageable number. Beyond the 144 units per year, the GMO also prudently allows for the construction of affordable and senior housing units. But the fatal flaw of the revised GMO is that it has an exemption provision that is wide enough for a developer to drive a truck full of white vinyl siding through. The exemption process relies on the developer proving “public benefit” associated with his request to build additional units.
The trouble is, “public benefit” is a hugely subjective matter. Is “preserving a scenic vista” – which was in the developer’s best interest anyway – a public benefit? If so, does the developer get an exemption for 2 additional units? Or 6? Or 10? Does it depend on the vista? And it’s up to the Town Council to adjudicate the value of the “public benefit.” Good luck, Town Council!
Of course, when one developer gets an exemption for 50 units based on a completely unquantifiable determination of public benefit, other developers line up with equally unquantifiable public benefits and demand exemptions. And their lawyers eagerly line up next to them suing for equal treatment. So there are two possible outcomes here: (1) The Town Council agrees to most if not all exemption requests and growth continues unabated or (2) the Town spends huge legal bucks trying to defend a flawed ordinance. Pick your poison!
By the way, did the Town’s attorney review the revised GMO? If not, why not? If so, why did he or she not pick up on the impracticality of using public benefit as the exemption criterion? So many questions…
Where we are today — hang on to your hats!
That’s right… there are more than 1,200 apartment units that developers are just itching to build.
Of these, the Downs’ developers are the most itchy. Remember, they’ve asked for an exemption of more than 600 apartment units to “activate” the so-called downtown. That new “downtown” depends on the Town coming through and building a community center (a polite name for a pool) at taxpayer expense. So essentially we have to further accelerate growth that’s already too fast – as far as two-thirds of residents are concerned – in order for the Town to commit to spending $35 million or more on a project that supports the Downs’ need for a downtown. Where, oh where, is the logic in this?
But fear not, stout-hearted residents, Town Manager Hall and Council Chair Cloutier are hard at work, behind closed doors, naturally, hammering out an agreement with the Michaud and Risbara brothers at this very moment. Look for that exemption agreement to pop up very suddenly at a Town Council meeting soon. Expect it to be whisked through the approval process before anyone knows what’s happening. We expect action on the Downs deal prior to the June 14 election of a replacement Town Council member, since prospects for getting it approved are less likely once the new member is added. Stay tuned!
Right behind the Downs is the proposal to build 336 apartment units in the Enterprise Business Park. All they need are the permits and great riches will flow to the Town! You can see their pitch at this link which will take you to the agenda for the Town Council workshop on their proposal on May 4. (You will be forgiven if you think their proposal sounds very much like that from the Downs.)
And then there’s the Comfort Inn on Route 1 near the entrance to the Downs. We’re quite certain the Comfort Inn never had nightly turn-down service with a mint on your pillow, but it was probably an acceptable budget motel. Recently, though, not so much. Here’s one review from Expedia in February:
If you read more reviews, you’ll get the impression that housekeeping isn’t one of the hotel’s strengths. Not sure if the amenities include needle exchanges or not.
Our new Police Chief has recently described a significant uptick in crime in the area that appears associated with residents of the Comfort Inn. He also noted that PD community liaison staff are working with the residents to coordinate appropriate services.
The hotel was bought by a new owner (“Insta-Choice LLC”) in February of this year. Good luck finding out anything about Insta-Choice; the public records are totally unhelpful, perhaps purposely so. We’re looking forward to learning what business model the new owner has in mind for the property. It is rumored to be another conversion to apartments.
And speaking of the vibrancy that comes with a growing community, here’s an item from the Police Department’s new weekly crime report that caught our eye… and made us think fondly of those days long ago when the white-haired ladies dressed in all white (complete with white paper caps) used to weigh out a quarter’s worth of Bangor Taffy for you at Len Libby’s on Spurwink Road:
But enough nostalgia! Let’s focus on today. Better yet, let’s focus on tomorrow and how best to stop the insane growth that is rapidly and systematically turning our community into something we do not recognize and definitely do not want.
So, fellow feisty Scarborough residents, what are we going to do about this madness?
How Scarborough really works
Our next blog is not to be missed! We’ll pull back the curtain, name names and generally raise hell – all in the name of better acquainting our loyal readers with the way things really work in Town government. A draft of the blog is now being reviewed by our Cambridge, Massachusetts law firm of Dewey, Cheatem & Howe. We hope to release it within a few days.
Among the topics:
* the real Town organization chart
* how the magic happens
* the challenges an ordinary citizen faces in Town matters
* two chilling examples of how alternative voices are silenced
In addition, there will be updates on the Fiscal 2023 budget and more. Follow the blog to make sure you don’t miss a single issue. Remember, allthe important news you won’t find in the Leader is here!
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading the blog and sharing it with family, friends and neighbors who want the real scoop on what’s happening in Scarborough.
Run for your lives, fellow Scarborough residents! The Blob has landed in town! Even as you read this, the juggernaut of unrestrained development is rolling through the former Scarborough Downs, devouring 525 mostly leafy acres of woodland and threatening to transform our once quiet little suburb into a showplace of high-density, consumer-driven delight – filled with vast warehouses of humanity and justified by the dubious promise of a glittering new “town center.”
Too dramatic, friends? Well, maybe a bit. But stay with us for a few minutes and consider what The Downs means for Scarborough. Along the way, we’ll also reveal two of the big secrets that some Town leaders don’t want you to know.
(By the way, we didn’t come up with “The Blob” to describe the current ugly development process that’s plaguing the Town. Town Councilor Paul Johnson’s article in the February 4 issue of The Leader — “The Blob: Otherwise known as growth in Scarborough” — presents a glowing account account of “The Blob” and all the potential riches it holds for the Town.)
It’s a complicated story… but that’s why we’re here
There are many elements that are tangled up in the current negotiations between the Town and The Downs. Here’s the basic outline of the mess in a nutshell:
Town leaders have decided we’re getting a pool. They refer to it as a “community center,” but make no mistake, it’s a municipal pool. They intend to put it on the ballot in November, assuming we’re actually allowed to vote on it — unlike the plan last time around.
Town leaders also seem to be set on having The Downs build us a shiny new “town center” from scratch in the middle of The Downs property. More on this fantasy later.
The developers say that in order to build said fantasy town center, they will need a massive exemption from the Growth Management Ordinance (GMO) that was just updated last year. Instead of the 43 housing units per year the GMO allows them, the developers have requested an unlimited/blanket exemption to build as many apartment units as they want within a 90-acre portion of The Downs. As far as we can tell, the only limiting factor on how many units they will build will be the quantities of 2x4s and white vinyl siding they can get.
The developers also say that the pool/community center must also be located in the town center for the town center to be successful.
The logical conclusion of the above: to get a pool (which taxpayers will have to pay for), the Town Council must (1) let The Downs build as many apartment units as the market will bear, (2) authorize the developer to build a risky town center for which the Town’s financial contribution has yet to be defined and (3) locate the pool/community center in that town center. Such a deal!
So to get a pool, we have to go completely against the overwhelming sentiment of residents in the recent community survey that the Town is growing much too fast. In addition, we have to plow ahead blindly with a highly speculative and risky new “town center.” Is this making any sense to you?
The Top 9 Reasons Scarborough Doesn’t Need a New “Town Center”
#9 – One of the big reasons cited for needing a “town center” is to provide places for residents to meet and gather. Wait, are we somehow lacking in places to bump into and socialize with friends and neighbors now? Here’s a starter list for current opportunities: the library with its numerous outreach programs, the schools with their many programs for kids and adults, Town Hall, the community services programs all over town, Memorial Park, the Post Office, several well-maintained neighborhood parks/fields, some of the best beaches in the State, miles and miles of nature trails, several private gyms, the Big 20 and the list goes on and on. Does a new 1-acre green space at the proposed town center really add that much to the current list of Town amenities and places to meet/gather?
#8 – Another reason suggested for needing a new “town center” is that we need more retail and dining opportunities in town. Again, take a minute and make a mental list of the retail locations we currently have, from mom and pop enterprises to the big box stores. Same with the restaurants. We have dozens in many categories. OK, so you may have to go to Portland for 4-star dining, but don’t for a moment think that a new town center will attract a James Beardy-type spot. Appleby’s, maybe, but not Eventide. (By the way, Ken’s Place opens March 18th.)
#7 – Lots of the rationale for a town center is pure marketing malarkey. Come on, “Live * Work * Play.” In the real estate biz, a group of 4-letter words like this is known as “Vibrancy Bingo” in the marketing of “lifestyle centers.” (See image above.) Here’s a possible Bingo entry for a new town center: “Hype * Sell * Yawn.”
#6 – Has anyone ever heard of a traditional downtown area that’s anchored by a 70,000 square foot supermarket (same size as Hannaford, more or less)? Well, that’s what our proposed new town center is relying on. Don’t worry, though; it won’t generate much additional traffic at all on our streets and roads.
#5 – Is “exciting” the same as “likely to succeed?” After delivering a decidedly lukewarm written report on The Downs’ proposed town center project, the consultant hired recently by the Town described the project as “exciting.” Said the man who has already pocketed a $25,000 fee related to the project. Consultant Rule Number 3: do not kill the golden goose.
#4 – The consultant also noted that there is considerable financial risk to lenders on projects like this. The report stated; “Given this risk, many lenders will only finance a large developer with a strong balance sheet to guarantee the debt and a track record of successfully completing similar projects [emphasis added].” Do the Local Boys at The Downs meet those qualifications?
#3 – Creating a new town center from scratch is a risky business. Check out this article from Strong Towns: 5 Stories Proving Manufactured Downtowns are a Big Mistake. [Link here.] It looks at the creation from scratch of five town centers or downtowns. And the results are far from what the developers initially promised.
#2 – Some say Scarborough is incomplete. Honestly, now, how often have you said to yourself: “Gee, I wish Scarborough were more complete… and had a bunch more traffic.”?
#1 – We’ve made it for more than 350 years without a “town center.” Do we really need one now? And at what cost?
The Two Big Things You’re Not Aware Of … and Should Be!
Two really important facts have been omitted or significantly downplayed in the current discussions of growth and the Town’s future.
First, there has been no discussion of the cost to the Town of a new town center. Although the Ad Hoc Downtown Development Committee was charged with preparing a conceptual plan of a town center and the costs of it, they did not provide any estimates of the costs involved in creating the proposed town center. There will be significant infrastructure costs to develop a town center.
And the developer will expect the Town to pay those costs. This was clearly anticipated in the original 2018 Credit Enhancement Agreement (CEA). The section of the CEA on the Downtown Project Process includes: “Following the public process, the parties may decide to commit to a new or amended credit enhancement agreement.” This language could only have been inserted for the developer’s benefit – putting the Town on notice that the developers will be expecting to be paid for the infrastructure costs of a new downtown.
Yet there has not been a peep about the costs to the Town of the downtown/town center. How can we possibly be making important decisions about the town center – including authorizing a huge number of apartments through the GMO exemption – without having any discussion of the costs of the town center? How can these important decisions be made in a financial vacuum?
Second, there has been no analysis of the tax impact of the several large projects the Town plans to undertake in the next 2-3 years. The projects, estimates of their costs and timing are:
Note that these are not “official” estimates. It would be nice if the Town provided cost guidance on these projects. In the meantime, our estimates above are probably “close enough for government work.”
The important thing to note here – in addition to the mind-boggling total – is the timing of the projects. Notice how the library expansion and the pool/community center will be voted on before the new school. So we’ll be asked to approve the two nice-to-have projectsbeforethe most expensive and most critical project – the new school. This timing has been designed so voters can be tempted to approve the less critical projects before the financial/tax reality of the must-do school project is made clear to them.
Fellow residents, it is imperative that we understand the big picture here! We are faced with massive capital projects over the next 2-3 years. We need the Town to exhibit some transparency here and fess up as to the tax impact of the combination of these projects. As many of you are aware, “transparency” has never really been one of the Scarborough’s things. Let’s try it this time!
Doing Our Part
Long-time readers of LookOutScarborough know that we’re more than just a source of information you won’t find elsewhere. (By the way, have you noticed how much of The Leader’s content is propaganda, er, material, provided by Town staff?) In any event, besides providing information and insight, we try whenever possible to help out in solving the issues of the day. In that vein…
As we’ve watched various presentations about the proposed new “town center,” we have learned that the planners seem to be stuck on coming up with an iconic structure or feature (or, as the Germans say, Fruehstuecksdoppelstulle) for the town center. Something memorable that says “Scarborough!” and draws folks to it. Initially, the iconic draw was to be the reworked Scarborough Downs grandstand. But that didn’t work out due to the structural issues with the grandstand. In fact, it appears that a handful of well-placed firecrackers should be able to demo the thing when the time comes.
So here’s our design contribution:
Highly evocative of the Town’s equine past and at the same time symbolic of the financial good luck that the Downs promises in the future. We present the Scarborough golden horseshoe. People will come from miles around! We think it’s a sure winner.
A fun real estate fact…
Golly, it seems like just yesterday — but it was really January, 2018 — that the Michaud/Risbara brothers bought the 525-acre Scarborough Downs for $6.7 million. Feeling sorry for the Local Boys yet?
That’s all for now, folks. There was a lot to digest this time, but it’s important that as many residents as possible understand The Blob (i.e., out-of-control development). The Town is at a crossroads, literally and figuratively. We risk losing the sense of place that so many residents cherish. So please pay attention and make your feelings known. Many of you speak up at Town Council and other committee meetings. Thank you! And many others contact the Town Council via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Thank you, as well. If you haven’t made your voice heard yet, please do! Every voice matters!
One last favor: if you know someone who might enjoy this blog, please forward it to them. Why should they miss out!
No pretty pictures this time. Just a few stark facts about the new Growth Management Ordinance that the Town Council is poised to approve at this evening’s meeting:
* A profoundly important decision — This is the most important decision any Town Council is likely to make in the next five years. It will have a profound impact on Scarborough’s future.
* Ordinance’s impact unknown — Despite its importance, its implications for the Town’s future growth are unknown. If there has been a meaningful analysis of what the ordinance will mean for the Town’s growth over the next five years, it has been well hidden. Isn’t the public entitled to understandable projections of the number of each type of housing unit and the related population growth by year over the next five years? While precise projections may not be practical, projections of best case, worst case and most likely case are certainly possible. Indeed, most would consider them required when considering a decision of this magnitude. Where are the projections?
* Exemptions for the Downs – As of the last publicly available draft of the new ordinance, there are three exemptions to the permit issuing rules specifically for the Downs. Doesn’t the public deserve an explanation of the implications of these exemptions and the basis for them?
* Flawed public process – Despite the protests of many Councilors that they have been hard at work on this ordinance for 16 months, much of that time was not particularly productive. And most members of the Town Council pretended not to hear the loud and clear message the public sent (via the survey, public comment and emails) that the pace of growth is too fast.
Within the past 4-6 weeks, a frenzied effort has been made to finalize a new ordinance. A good deal of that effort has occurred behind the scenes – and with a healthy dose of input from the Downs. It’s telling that the only information provided in the agenda for this evening’s meeting is a marked-up draft of the ordinance… which will be subject to amendments at the meeting, minutes before the final vote occurs. There is absolutely no analysis of what it means to the Town in terms of number and types of housing units and population growth over the next five years.
Doesn’t the public deserve a reasonable opportunity to review, question, understand and respond to the final proposal for this critical ordinance? In a well-functioning local government, the answer is obviously “yes.” We’ll see how the Scarborough Town Council answers the question later today.
If you want a chilling summary of where we are, you may want to watch this one-minute clip of Council Chair Paul Johnson’s summing up comments on growth at last Thursday’s workshop on the Growth Management Ordinance. Don’t miss that bit at the very end… “It’s a little scary for the next two years, I think…” Yes, indeed, many of us are very scared about the Town’s future growth. And we were counting on the Town Council to control it.
That’s all for now. We hope to report better news in the future! In the meantime,
[Blog name of Steve Hanly, who is solely responsible for the content herein]
Well, friends and neighbors, residential growth continues at a blinding pace in old Scarborough Town. But whether that pace is too fast, too slow or just right remains an open question. Heck, the Town can’t even seem to agree on what that current pace is, let alone what it should be.
This blog will examine where we think we are, how we got here and what we can do about it. We’ll try to eliminate the jargon and the red herrings.
But first, please take 60 seconds to check out this slide show for an overview of what residential growth in Scarborough over the last four years looks like.[Link here.] You may be surprised.
Where we are
Based on our review of various Town documents, we estimate that around 1,200 total housing units have been approved since 2017, bringing us to a total of about 9,500 total units now. (We wish we could be more accurate here, but if there’s a readily available source of reliable, consistent and comprehensive data on our housing inventory and growth prepared by the Town, we haven’t been able to find it.) This estimate appears to be consistent with the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) estimate for 2019 of 9,233 housing units.
Here’s a summary of the Town’s “Total Units” approved over the period from 2011 to 2109:
(We wanted to include the 2020 numbers, or at least estimates of them, in this analysis. So we requested them from the Town last week. The response was they “will be working on this information.” How this very basic information about housing permits is not available more than three months after the year-end makes us wonder just what sort of system the Town has for reporting permitting activity.)
In any event, the recent explosion of housing is readily seen in the chart above, with the average number of units approved each year from 2017 to 2019 being three times that of the prior six years.
But never mind the abstractions; here’s some reality you can see as you drive around town… multi-unit housing projects approved since 2017:
Note: The above list does not include stand-alone single-family homes created outside of multiple-unit projects.
It’s also interesting to see a major shift in the mix of housing units has changed in the last few years. As will be discussed below, a change in the Town ordinances in 2008 made possible a huge shift in the mix of housing types. While single-family homes have long been the predominant housing type in Scarborough, a dramatic shift occurred between 2017 and 2019 as noted in the following chart:
While only 48 units were created in multi-apartment buildings during the six-year period from 2011 to 2016, a total of 613 units were created in multi-apartment building in the three-year period from 2017 to 2019.
What are the implications – positive or negative – of this dramatic change in the Town’s housing character?
How we got here
How we arrived at this level of scorching growth is a complicated story. Here is one observer’s condensed and highly subjective explanation of the factors that have caused the explosive growth:
* Town Manager Tom Hall has a bias toward fast growth. As the only consistent player in a Town governance structure that sees about one-third of the Town Council potentially turn over every year, the Manager is at the helm for the long term. He controls the decision-making data and uses it (effectively) to steer the Town Council along his desired course.
* The Town changed its “Growth Management Ordinance” – which is supposed to help avoid too-fast and disruptive housing growth – in 2008. The major change was to introduce the concept of “fractionalization” to the process of issuing housing permits. It essentially gave developers the leeway to build up to two one-bedroom apartment units in lieu of one single-family home. (As seen in the chart above, it “worked.”)
* Scarborough has been blessed, or cursed, depending on your viewpoint, with very savvy developers. Not only are they shrewd, but they have that intangible advantage of being “local boys,” or, as some refer to them, “Marco Island boys.” One of the shrewdest early moves of the brothers Michaud and Risbara was to hire away the Town’s Director of Planning, Dan Bacon, the person most familiar with the Town’s complex zoning requirements. It’s not good when the fox knows more about the henhouse layout and alarm system than the hens.
* Taxpayers have kicked in significant financial assistance to the developers by way of the tax break known as a “Credit Enhancement Agreement” (“CEA”). So the unwitting taxpayer is actually having his tax dollars used to fuel or “incentivize” this fast growth. In 2021, for instance, we sent the Downs $243,000 to help their bottom line. In view of the current level of construction activity at the Downs, their 2022 payoff will likely be much larger. It’s ironic that taxpayers have actually subsidized the torrid growth pace.
The politics of growth
A frequently used tactic in the debate on many issues at all levels of government is for one side to overstate or mischaracterize the other’s position. For instance, in the current Town debate over housing growth, some pro-growth individuals will characterize the “reasonable-growth” advocates as “anti-growth.” That’s just not a fair assessment of the position of many reasonable-growth advocates. It’s disingenuous at best.
Most Scarborough residents are not anti-growth. They just want reasonable growth that doesn’t urbanize the Town overnight. Do we want to become the commuter hub of Cumberland County where good access to the Turnpike and I-295 is the primary reason people decide to live here? Does that foster a sense of community? How much more pressure do we want to put on Route 1? What are the financial implications of excessive growth? (We just don’t buy the idea that the Town will grow its way to financial prosperity and affordable tax increases.)
Also worth mentioning is the motivation of some of the rapid-growth proponents. It seems that some of the most vocal members of that choir are in the local real estate, construction or development businesses. Hmmm. And don’t forget that Jean-Marie Caterina, the chair of the Town’s Ordinance Committee, which is responsible for the Growth Management Ordinance, is a Scarborough realtor. Yes, her livelihood involves the buying and selling of homes in Scarborough. Ahh, the appearances we create!
Lighting a candle
Longtime readers know that we at LookOutScarborough frequently curse the darkness of Town matters. But we also try to light a candle in that darkness whenever possible. In that spirit, here’s our list of suggestions for moving forward to finally address these issues in an informed, rational manner:
* Provide data on growth over the last ten years. Give the public meaningful data on how the housing inventory has changed – by type and size of structure (single family, apartment/condo, # of bedrooms) and by unit ownership (owner or renter occupied).
* Provide data on specialty housing types over the past ten years – number of units of senior housing, affordable housing, subsidized housing.
* Seriously solicit public input on growth preferences. Yes, a real, unbiased, widely-distributed survey. (A recent survey conducted by two Town Councilors indicated a high degree of disapproval of the current fast growth rate among residents.)
* Set specific, community-endorsed goals for future specialty housing. Saying – as we currently do – “we need more” senior or affordable/subsidized housing is not a meaningful goal! The goals need to be developed with an understanding of the region’s demands and resources. More importantly, the goals need to reflect Scarborough residents’ desires and willingness to pay for these desirable programs.
You, too, can light a candle
At the moment, the Town Council is in the process of rushing through very recently proposed changes to the Town’s Growth Management Ordinance (“GMO”). (What? Another rush job on a critical Town decision! Say it’s not so!) Fortunately, Town Councilor Betsy Gleysteen has prepared a concise and readable review of the proposed revisions GMO and its significant deficiencies.
If you are concerned about the rapid growth in Scarborough, please see Betsy’s review of the facts and how you can help. Here’s a linkto her review.We highly recommend it.
Two key dates are:
Wednesday, April 21 – Town Council public hearing on the GMO
Wednesday, May 5 – Town Council second reading (i.e., final vote) on the proposed GMO changes
Early Budget Warning
The first draft of the Fiscal 2022 budget has been announced. Unfortunately, it’s much like most recent budgets. The Town Manager and School Superintendent prepared outlandish budget requests, dumped them in the Town Council’s lap and told the Council to figure it out. This model never ceases to amaze us. In the real world, a CEO (i.e., Town Manager) who presented a budget that was so unresponsive to the Board of Directors’ request (i.e., the Town Council’s) would be picking up his final check shortly after submitting the budget.
Here, however, the Town Council and the public get to go at it for 5-6 weeks of heated arguments while the Town Manager plays the part of humble servant to the Council, sitting by quietly and observing the mayhem.
But enough philosophizing. Here are a few of the lowlights of the proposed budget:
Tax rate increase: 7.74%
Municipal expenses increase: 7.6%
School expense increase: 6.5%
Combined school and municipal capital expenditures: up by $6.8 million ($4.2 million to $11.0 million)
Additional debt to be issued: $8.6 million
The beat goes on. We’ll keep you posted as we dig into the gory details.
That’s all for now, folks. Challenges abound in Scarborough, as they often do. Be strong! Until next time,
(nom de blog of Steve Hanly, who is solely responsible for the contents above)
Click herefor a 60-second tour of recent Scarborough housing activity.
Well, friends, we made it through 2020, somehow. And the sun seems to be rising again every day in 2021. So onward we march! Spring and vaccinations are right around the corner.
But enough piffle. Let’s get right to the Scarborough news that you won’t see anywhere else – even though it was the lead story in the Leader.
Yes, if you saw last week’s Leader, you probably read about the Town dipping its toe into addressing the homeless crisis. But if you were like us, you found that the questions raised by the article significantly outweighed the information provided.
Actually, the Town has done more than dip its toe in the water of this issue – we have plunged into a pool of unknown depth with wild abandon.
But first, a quick summary of the facts that have been made available to the public:
* “A Scarborough hotel” is being converted into a temporary homeless shelter managed and staffed by the folks at Preble Street.
* The facility will accommodate 73 homeless individuals in the “emergency wellness shelter” and 41 individuals in the “quarantine and isolation shelter” (for homeless individuals affected by COVID-19).
* The project will be fully funded by MaineHousing, a State agency.
* The emergency wellness shelter (73 individuals) is “anticipated to operate through April 30, 2021,” i.e., through the end of the winter season.
* The quarantine and isolation shelter (41 individuals) “does not have a pre-determined end date, as it is in response to the current pandemic and an integral part of the public health response.”
There are two aspects of this story that are astounding:
First, the omission of a central fact to the story – which Scarborough hotel is being converted into the homeless shelter? How is it possible that the hotel involved is not named in any of the publicly available material on the project? And how can the Leader write a front-page story on the project and not name the hotel? Can this omission be accidental? Why was this key piece of information withheld?
The mystery hotel, it turns out, is the Marriott Fairfield Inn at 2 Cummings Road, at the intersection of Payne and Cummings Roads. More on that in a minute.
Second, the lightning speed with which this decision was made. During the discussion of the project at the Town Council meeting of January 20 [link here;start at 25:45], the Town Manager noted that he was first approached about the project “right before the first of the year, so a couple of weeks ago.” (He did not disclose when he made the members of the Town Council aware of the potential project.) And then — after a 25-minute public discussion at the January 20 Council meeting – the project was approved.
You are probably aware of the long and tortuous process that Portland has gone through over the past several years in coming up with appropriate locations for homeless shelters. Those discussions have literally lasted for years. Yet Scarborough can make a decision on its first homeless shelter in less than a month and after a 25-minute public discussion. The contrast is striking.
Yes, we understand that the current winter homeless situation is an urgent public health crisis and that unnecessary delays could cost lives. At the same time, the Town Council has a responsibility to thoroughly review proposals that impact the Town, and, in this case, the residents of the homeless shelter. Did that review occur?
Did the Town Council:
formally or informally conduct a site visit at the Fairfield Inn?
review the “Certificate of Local Approval” that it authorized the Town Manager to sign to allow the project?
review the agreement between Preble Street and MaineHousing on the project?
review the lease between Preble Street or MaineHousing and the owner of the Fairfield Inn (Giri Portland Mall, Inc. of Quincy, MA)?
review the transportation plan for residents staying at the shelter?
consider the Town’s role in responding to homelessness at the site and in general after the “temporary” project ends?
If any of these steps were taken, they weren’t mentioned during the Council meeting.
If anyone had visited the Fairfield Inn, he or she may well have had some serious questions about the suitability of the location for a homeless shelter. On a recent site visit, your editor observed the following about the intersection of Payne and Cummings Roads where the hotel is located:
There is no “Walk” light at the intersection of Payne and Cummings Road.
There are no crosswalks at the intersection.
There are no sidewalks at the intersection!
This is a fairly complex, high volume intersection. Payne Road is 5 lanes and Cummings Road is 6 lanes. It is decidedly pedestrian unfriendly. In fact, you take your life in your hands when trying to cross the intersection.
When one considers that some of the residents at the shelter may have multiple and complex barriers, including mental illness, substance use disorders, other disabilities or co-occurring diagnoses, one would have to be concerned that any resident trying to leave the property on foot and cross the street would be at an obvious risk of serious bodily harm or worse.
In its haste to respond to an emergency, the Town Council may have overlooked a serious deficiency of the shelter site. Although the deed is done, we hope the Council will re-look at this project and spend the appropriate amount of time and get meaningful public input on the future of this specific project and the Town’s overall response to the regional problem of homelessness.
The Old Cynic’s Corner
Let’s be clear, your editor fully supports the Town taking positive steps in dealing with the serious problem of homelessness in the region. At the same time, he is strenuously opposed to the Town Council making rushed and not fully informed judgments. Especially when those judgments can potentially have severe consequences for some of those impacted by the decision.
There seems to be a faulty thought process involved here. If a proposal deals with a serious social ill, it gets a pass (or at least less detailed scrutiny) from the normal review and vetting process. Because it’s a worthy cause, it is assumed to be a worthy proposal. Obviously nobody wants to appear to be against helping the homeless or any of our neighbors in need.
Any proposal to address homelessness will have a built-in emotional bias for approval. In reality, proposals of this sort should get more careful analysis and review to compensate for that built-in bias for approval. We shouldn’t equate a worthy cause with a worthy proposal.
That’s it for now, folks.
It’s a busy time in old Scarborough: a new “downtown” being planned, the Town Charter being reviewed, the Comprehensive Plan being finalized and the budget process beginning. No wonder the Town Council members seem harried… their plates are overflowing. We’ll do our best to keep you informed! So until next time,
(nom de blog of Steve Hanly who is solely responsible for the above)
As the saying goes, “never let a good crisis go to waste.” And what could be a better crisis than a pandemic!? So let the games begin!
Here’s our exclusive overview of a few current crisis-enabled schemes and developments that you probably haven’t heard much about…
Scarborough Schools Awash in Cash
Recall that the school budget for this year includes $534,000 of local taxpayer funds for pandemic-related costs. This was despite a general understanding that a Federal bailout was coming later in the summer.
The bailout did indeed arrive this fall, in two big payouts, totaling $4.3 million for Scarborough. There are two important requirements for use of that cash: (1) the funds can only be used for pandemic-related costs and (2) the funds have to be completely spent or committed by December 30, 2020, just a couple of months from now.
But fortunately requirement #2 plays to one of the schools’ great strengths – spending money. So we’re convinced there won’t be any trouble burning through the allotted cash by the deadline.
We are, however, a bit curious about just how pandemic-related some of the expenses are. For instance, remember that $250,000 heated shed for the new school dump truck that was finally (and thankfully) removed from the schools’ capital budget this past summer? Well, it’s probably just a coincidence, but there’s a $275,000 heated shed on concrete slab included in what we’re going to spend some of the $4.3 million of pandemic funds on. Hmmm….
And let’s not forget the $50,000 for water bottles associated with the $125,000 for the purchase and installation of bottle filling stations. That’s not a joke; those are included in our funding request. While we understand that traditional water fountains are no longer prudent, we wonder about the solution. (And this statement caught our eye: “To ensure equity, all staff and students will be provided with a refillable water bottle.”)
Of course, the real issue here has to do with ongoing expenses. It’s very easy to hire additional staff, lease space and enter long-term contracts when cash is pouring out of the Federal pandemic aid faucet. But who picks up the tab for those new expenses once the faucet is closed? Obviously, that’s a rhetorical question. Evaluating long-term consequences has never been one of the strong suits of the Town or schools.
Scarborough Teachers’ Union Asks for Changes
You may remember the difficulty we had learning the terms of the teachers’ contract before the budget was being finalized this spring. It ended up being an average 15% raise over 3 years (and we’re still waiting for the analysis of the financial impact of the contract). The School Board and union kept that deal quiet for months before the school budget vote. And after the contract was signed, the union was asked by the School Board to make salary concessions like many other Town and school employee groups had. The union declined to make even a token concession.
And we’ve just learned that the teachers’ union has now approached the School Board about a “memorandum of understanding” due to the special circumstances surrounding this school year related to the pandemic. What? An amendment to the contract that was not signed until June 22, well after the severity of the pandemic was apparent? You will not be surprised to learn that – since the School Board is now in negotiations with the union – the proposed contract modifications are all top-secret and the public has no right to know what’s going on in the negotiations.
Yes, the cone of silence has descended once again. We’ll only find out the results of the negotiations when the bill gets presented to the taxpayers.
School Enrollment Down, Not Surprisingly
Have you wondered what’s happening to school enrollments as our pandemic adventure continues? Here’s the scoop as of October 1:
K-12 total last year: 2,999
K-12 total this year: 2,928
That’s a reduction of 71 students, of whom 69 are homeschooling.
Source: School Department
Of the 2,928 students currently enrolled in Scarborough schools, 399 have elected the all-remote model. That leaves 2,529 on the hybrid model (2 days a week in school, 2 days a week remote learning).
We haven’t heard how many teachers have decided not to return to the physical classrooms.
Community Services Expansion
It seems like just yesterday that the Town Council approved a lease of the old House of Lights location (14,000 sf) as a site for an expanded childcare program in response to the pandemic. Come to think of it, it was just at the September 9 Town Council meeting that the presentation was reviewed and approved. Estimated annual facility costs alone are about $290,000.
The now-closed House of Lights on Payne Road
Now for the COVID twist… In the October 22 issue of the Forecaster it was publicly revealed (for the first time, we think) that “Most of the [Community Services] department’s staff that previously used space at Town Hall and Wentworth School has moved in [to the leased space]…” How strange that that administrative space expansion component of the use of the newly leased space was never mentioned during the discussion of the Town Council presentation. Just an oversight? Or a calculated way to take advantage of a crisis?
WEX Building at the Downs on the Back Burner (way back)
The WEX headquarters in Portland
We weren’t at all pleased when super-successful WEX held up the Town for a $150,000 per year rent subsidy in order to locate an office building at the Downs last year. Remember, that was in addition to the 40% of the taxes on the new building that we’d be paying to our favorite local boys (the brothers Risbara and Michaud).
Enter COVID-19. And most of WEX’s office workers are now working from home. Which obviously dampens the demand for new office space. Now the rumor is that the new Scarborough office building is on long-term hold. We can only hope this bad deal goes away forever!
Until next time
Well, friends, that’s as much news as we can share without being overcome by the fumes of cynicism and disbelief. We’ll work on some good news for next time!
Until then, stay safe, stay healthy, stay positive and above all…
(nom de blog of Steve Hanly, who is solely responsible for its contents)
PS: We apologize for the over-reliance on 60s TV shows for images this time around. But, hey, if a classic fits, you gotta go with it.