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South Portland Notes – 2/14

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Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 8:54 am | Updated: 9:06 am, Wed Feb 13, 2013.

Offers made 
in city posts

By this time next week, the long vacant position as No. 2 man in South Portland City Hall could be filled, as could be the position of I.T. director. City Manager James Gailey said Monday that he has extended an offer to the leading candidate for both jobs.

“I’m hoping to hear back on both offers by Wednesday,” said Gailey, noting that both prospects are Maine residents. The assistant city manager post has been vacant since early last year. Last August, Erik Carson resigned two weeks after being placed on paid administrative leave, and six months after being demoted from assistant city manager to community development director. The new assistant, who Mayor Tom Blake says is slated to spend “80 percent of his time on economic development,” beat out 80 applicants for the job from across Maine and New England. Gailey said there were “about 45” resumes submitted for the city’s top tech job. The previous director, Shawn Pennington, resigned to take a position at Portland-based WorkGroup Technology as a senior systems engineer.

If either prospect accepts Gailey’s offer, there will be a final battery of hurdles to run, including drug testing. If all goes well, the new hire names could be released “Tuesday or Wednesday” of next week, said Gailey.

The new assistant manager would not arrive in South Portland until mid- to late-March, said Gailey, noting that, “He has to give 30 days notice at his current position.”

Land swap

In a workshop session Monday, the South Portland City Council approved a land-swap deal that many members said, “just makes sense.” Hornby-Zeller Associates, a multi-state consulting firm, bought property at 373 Broadway in 2008 for $210,000. It spent “about $250,000” to refurbish the property, the company says, discovering along the way that a bulkhead behind the building extends across the property line onto the Greenbelt Trail. The company initially thought it owned all of the land on the harbor side of the trail and, nearly a year ago, proposed a land swap to fix the property line issue. However, deed research showed the company only owned a 612-square-foot triangle valued at $700. The full property is assessed at $443,800. Hornby-Zeller now wants to swap that triangle of land for a two similarly-sized squares next to its 2,970-square-foot building, one to fix the encroachment of the back steps, another to provide sufficient setbacks to eventually build a 10-by-10-foot addition. The swap also clarifies the city’s ownership of and maintenance rights to a retaining wall next to the trail. The Planning Board unanimously approved the swap at its Jan. 8 meeting. The City Council will vote on it at its next meeting, which falls on Wednesday, Feb. 20, because of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Endowment options

South Portland is one step close to creating an endowment fund to repair and maintain city assets. At Monday’s City Council workshop, a “rough draft” of an ordinance was reviewed that would created a seven-member city endowment commission to collect and allocate donations. That option, according to City Manager Jim Gailey, is preferable to encouraging the creation of a fully independent endowment board, because of the time it might take to secure tax-exempt status as a nonprofit, and the lack of control the council would have beyond appointing directors. However, there is one more fly in the soup. According to Gailey, the city auditors have said any endowment fund can be used only on capital projects, not maintenance of existing assets. That’s a problem because the point of the endowment, when first proposed by Mayor Tom Blake 18 months ago when still a rank-and-file councilor, is to maintain parks and monuments where the city might not be able to otherwise in its regular operating budget. The idea came about when the city had to pull nearly $38,000 from reserves to pay for maintenance to the Liberty Ship Memorial in Bug Light Park. Following Monday’s meeting, Gailey said he would seek to clarify guidance from the auditors. Blake said the endowment project would go to workshop “at least one more time” before making its way to a regular council meeting for a vote.

Meeting schedule

The South Portland City Council on Monday set the schedule for upcoming workshop sessions. On Feb. 25, the council will review plans for a new public works garage on Highland Avenue as well as a request for the city purchase of property at Columbus and Southeast streets. Feb. 27 will be a special joint meeting with the school board focused on budget issues for the next fiscal year. Meanwhile, March 11 will bring debate from both sides of the so-called “tar sands” issue and a proposed pipeline that could terminate in South Portland. Workshops in late-March and early-April will be given over to budget talks. Then, April 22 will see a discussion with the city’s new assistant manager on economic development options, as well as so-called “vertical development” possibilities. Mayor Tom Blake also tentatively scheduled April 22 for talks on creating a new comprehensive plan implementation committees, as well as a class with City Attorney Sally Daggett on the council’s standing rules and possible creation of a code of ethics. Finally, mid-May will see progress on the city’s sustainability plan, following the report of an intern working with the city’s energy and recycling committee on a climate action plan.

Old boss/New boss

For many years, South Portland City Manager Jim Gailey and City Planner Tex Heauser have served as the local representatives to the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation Committee, created in 1975 to serve 15 area municipalities. Now serving 18 communities, with a combined population of more than 200,000 per the 2010 census, the committee is under federal pressure to reseat its governing boards with elected, rather than appointed officials. On Jan. 24, PACTS adopted new by-laws stating that members should now be elected officials, “or their designees.” At Monday’s workshop, councilors duly re-designated Gailey and Heauser. As one of two alternates they designated Public Works Director Doug Howards. The second alternate spot went to Councilor Patti Smith, who was absent from the meeting, because of her involvement with the pedestrian/bicycle committee. If Smith declines, the five councilors resolved to appoint whomever is elected to the vacant District 1 seat in March.

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