Wiscasset budget talks

Waterfront panel recommends pursuing slips, showers

Tue, 03/29/2022 - 8:45am

    Slips at the recreational pier and showers at the harbor master’s office are possible if Wiscasset seeks a grant and is willing to chip in, the waterfront committee told selectmen and the budget committee March 22. A preliminary report from the waterfront committee recommends seeking a Maine Department of Transportation small harbor improvement program grant; the report estimates the project would take a one-time, $174,250 local match and $10,000 a year in labor to collect fees on and maintain the new features.

    Budget committee member Tom Joyce predicted they would “at a minimum” take two full-time workers. “I don’t think you could do it without that,” based on his experience at marinas, he said. When the dock is open, the town needs to help anyone unfamiliar with the pump-out, and field radio calls seeking slips, Joyce said.

    Most slips would be long-term, not transient, rentals, so town labor would be low, waterfront committee member David Gagnon said. “There’s nothing else for anybody else to do ... It’s (the renter’s) slip.”

    The harbor master would run the transient slips, like he does now for tie-ups, waterfront committee member Dick Forrest added. And the possible transient ones might be rented long-term instead, he said.

    “So we’re not trying to attract visitors to town (with this),” budget committee member William Maloney asked.

    “We think it will attract people,” Waterfront Committee Chair Susan Robson said.

    “But you’re saying ... it’s mostly for locals,” he said.

    “That’s our thinking; however, I think it’s going to depend on what the final decisions are, and the season, even,” she said. If the slips rent well, the town could add more spaces, Gagnon said. Selectman Kim Andersson said the proposed growth is conservative, which is smart, she said. “Let it develop organically.”

    Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission worked with the waterfront committee on the report. LCRPC’s Emily Rabbe said the plan was to serve the town’s recreational boaters; and, at least at first, she does not expect a lot of people to travel 12 miles from open water to come here, she said.

    Rabbe said the preliminary report’s aim was to ask to seek the grant and consider setting aside the local match. “So not every operational decision has been made. This is more of just a theoretical understanding of what could potentially happen.”

    Robson concurred in email responses to questions from Wiscasset Newspaper March 27. “This report ... should not be viewed as a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis. It is a necessary stepping stone for funding, required by grantors. As we move ahead, more will evolve. Very exciting,” she added.

    Based on Midcoast marinas’ fees, a state directive for reasonable fees and the recreational pier’s distance to open water, the preliminary report estimated possible yearly revenue from the project at about $30,753 to $33,507.

    The town’s possible grant match was part of $1,898,500 in possible capital reserve spending selectmen and the budget committee reviewed March 22 to consider taking to voters in June, including $235,000 for an ambulance and $170,000 in roof work and paving at Wiscasset Community Center.

    Simmons told the panels, if the school department budget is flat, Wiscasset for 2022-23 would need about $9.5 million in property taxes, $385,000 more than last year. But he expected enough of a fund balance for him to be comfortable with the board tapping enough to keep the tax rate flat.

    In a March 28 email response to questions, Simmons said: “At the end of last year we added about $600,000 to the fund balance so we have a fund balance of about $1.3 million, unaudited so this could change. This is much improved over the $131,826 we had at the end of FY ’19. It is not where we should be but I would be comfortable in using any budget surplus from this year to offset a tax increase. I would be leery of taking additional funds beyond that.”

    Simmons also said budget numbers are changing since his March 22 statement. “It was correct at the time but I have made some changes, like shifting some full-time positions around and at the request of the selectboard added money for an economic development position.”

    Talks were set to resume March 29.