Harbor Walk project borrowing set to go to public hearingCouncilor Delune concerned with portion of bonding
Belfast — City councilors discussed a first reading of a proposal to fund up to $1.2 million to complete the Harbor Walk project at their Tuesday, Aug. 7, meeting.
The financing will be done using two types of funding. The first will be to bond the $800,000 shortfall needed to complete work on the Harbor Walk, and the remaining $400,000 will be acquired through a bond anticipation note, City Manager Joseph Slocum said.
Belfast learned that it would need additional funding after Gov. Paul LePage froze the Communities for Maine’s Future Grant, of which the city was selected to receive $400,000.
Slocum said the bond anticipation note would be paid off as soon as the city receives the grant money.
Councilor Roger Lee asked if any of the bonding would be paid out of the Tax Increment Fund that businesses like Front Street Shipyard pay into. He also noted that the bonding amounts could change, depending on the bids the city receives to do the work.
Slocum said the taxes paid by Front Street Shipyard would generate about $102,000 a year towards debt service. Lee then asked what the city could expect for interest rates on the bond, to which Slocum said they would be in the range of 3 percent to 4 percent.
“I would also like to know how the rates compare to past rates the city has received. I expect they’re lower, but I don’t know how much lower,” Lee said.
During the public comment portion of the Council meeting, Belfast resident Blaine Richardson said he was attending to speak out against the proposed borrowing for the Harbor Walk.
As an alternative to borrowing the money, Richardson suggested acquiring the capital through private fundraising, which would save the bonds for an infrastructure issue, such as a sewer collapse.
Richardson’s comments echoed similar sentiments he and several other residents voiced during the previous Council meeting held July 17. However, councilors Lee and Mike Hurley voiced some frustration with Councilor Marina Delune, who said she was concerned about issuing a bond anticipation note for the $400,000 in addition to the $800,000 bond to complete the project.
“There’s only so much money we can borrow, and we’re really starting to see those constraints,” she said. “I don’t think we can in any way count on that $400,000.”
Delune took particular exception to the Steamboat Landing portion of the trail, which she said is the most expensive segment, but the least important to the overall project. She said people can access Steamboat Landing in its current state, and she felt spending money on that section was the least beneficial portion of the entire project.
Hurley quickly countered Delune’s assessment, noting that she serves on the Harbor Walk project committee and knows the scope of the plan.
“You and Roger [Lee] were appointees on this committee, and it grew and grew and now you oppose it,” Hurley said. “I don’t want to have spent three years and $225,000 on engineering to build a partial trail.”
Hurley said he wanted to know if there were enough votes in favor of borrowing the money to continue moving forward with the project, or if the city should pull the plug.
Lee agreed with Hurley that a lot of time has been spent on the project, and didn’t feel it would be appropriate to stop the project at this point.
Delune then explained that she supported the project, but the unavailability of the $400,000 grant concerned her.
“I was fine with doing the whole plan until we lost the $400,000,” she said. “We don’t need Steamboat Landing fully developed.”
The bonding issue will go to a public hearing during the next scheduled City Council meeting Aug. 21.
Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.