April 09, 2020

Houlton to discuss building needs, economic future

HOULTON – Town officials will fuse a discussion about how to upgrade some pieces of the town’s past with a conversation about its economic future during a meeting Tuesday evening.

During the session, the board will review the town’s capital plan and hear an update from Brian Hamel, the developer of the former Loring Air Force base in Limestone who was hired as economic development consultant last year.

More than a month ago, councilors pledged to begin brainstorming ways to fund major municipal projects before drafting Houlton’s fiscal year 2007 budget later this fall.

The idea was spawned after councilors accepted the town’s capital plan, which identifies and sets priorities for major projects that the town should spend money on in the next five years. It also estimates a price tag for each undertaking.

This year’s report pointed out several projects that need attention. The furnace at the town’s public works building, for instance, is more than 60 years old, and the gymnasium floor at the Gentle Memorial Building needs to be replaced. In concert with that, the police department has no covered parking for its cars, forcing officers to sometimes scrape ice from their windshields before responding to wintertime calls.

Councilors have consistently maintained that the town needs to make a significant investment in its property, but they have wrestled with finding a way to secure the estimated $1.1 million that is needed without ballooning the town’s 18.5 mill rate.

In the past, councilors have budgeted to fund such projects. Some would like to continue that practice, while other councilors have suggested that the town explore the possibility of securing a loan or a bond to address the needs more quickly.

After looking at the lengthy list of building needs, Chairman Paul Romanelli stressed the importance of developing a strategy to pay for these projects. He suggested that a significant discussion be held to address the issue before the budget process begins.

Hamel, one of the two consultants hired by the municipality last June to help with business attraction, already has updated councilors on his progress several times. He has praised the town for its recent economic strides, such as designating Tax Increment Financing districts, implementing more aggressive marketing techniques, and convincing investors that Houlton is “open for business.”

He also suggested the town could benefit from constructing a speculative building to appeal to larger businesses and has encouraged officials to consider the prospects in the modular home manufacturing industry.

Councilors last met with Hamel during an executive session in June to discuss his progress in depth and the business contacts that he had made on behalf of the town.

Tuesday’s meeting begins at 6:30 p.m.

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