Belfast could seek $1.2 million to complete Harbor Walk Project

Residents will have opportunity to weigh in on bond package
By Ben Holbrook | Jul 25, 2012

Belfast — Belfast is considering $1.2 million in bonding to complete work on the Harbor Walk Project.

The Harbor Walk will cost about $1.7 million to construct, and about $1 million of that cost was to be covered through surplus funds and grants. However, after learning Belfast’s $400,000 Communities for Maine’s Future grant was frozen, city officials needed a way to cover the funding gap without delaying the project.

With a small window of time to pursue a funding alternative — applications are due by August 1 to meet the fall deadline for when the bank issues a new round of bonds — city officials chose to pursue a possible bond package to cover the remaining balance; hoping the $400,000 grant freeze will be lifted and the money reimbursed to the city at a future date.

In addition to covering the $400,000 grant, the proposed bonding package includes a $100,000 allocation to do work on the east side of the Armistice Footbridge. During an interview Wednesday, July 18, Slocum said that money could be used to make the eastern side of the bridge, where a sewer pump system sits, more attractive.

“We’d like to fix up that piece of property, maybe build a nice fence around the pump and install some benches,” Slocum said. “We want people to cross between the east and west side.”

Slocum said by improving that section he hopes there will be more “connectivity” between the east and west sides of the city, which will benefit everyone economically.

During the city council meeting Tuesday, July 17, Councilor Nancy Hamilton said she is concerned about the$100,000 allocation to do work on the east side of the footbridge. She said she has the impression residents on the east side of Belfast would prefer the city not bond that money at this time.

“It’s a nice thought, but I think the east side would rather save its money,” she said.

Belfast resident Jayne Giles told councilors during discussion regarding the city budget she is concerned with the amount of debt the city is taking on to complete projects like the Harbor Walk.

The city allocated $386,490 for debt service in the 2012-2013 budget — down $68,550 from the debt service budget of $461,740 in the 2011-2012 budget. In his manager’s report, Slocum said the lower debt service budget is due to final payments made on a $520,000 bond to rebuild City Hall and a $150,000 bond to construct the Front Street parking lot.

The proposed bonding application that will be submitted to the Maine Municipal Bond Bank does not include money to winterize the police station, the Belfast Public Library or the Boathouse, which was originally slated to be included. However, after residents told councilors they didn’t want to see more money being spent, a decision was made to hold off on the additional $260,000 it would cost to winterize the three buildings.

“Let’s go forwards with the minimum bonding needed,” Councilor Roger Lee said.

If the city chooses to bond $1.2 million — that figure is subject to change depending on if the state releases the $400,000 grant — Slocum said during an interview Monday, July 23 the Tax Increment Financing revenue could be applied to the bond.

Councilors voted to authorize Slocum to send an application to the Municipal Bond Bank requesting the $1.2 million bond. Slocum said interest rates on municipal bonds tend to be in the 3 to 4 percent range and the city would always have the option to refinance at a better rate.

Before the money can be bonded a public hearing will be held August 21 to give residents the chance to weigh in on the proposal. Councilors will also have to approve a formal bonding resolution.

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at bholbrook@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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