Apart from voting to take legal action to secure ownership of the old Crosby High School building (see related article), the Belfast City Council took on a light agenda Nov. 16 during the first regular meeting since the election winners were sworn in discussing several holiday events, a pair of grants and attempting to straighten out a water bill.

New Ward 5 City Councilor Nancy Hamilton, who replaces Lewis Baker, joined returning Councilors Marina Delune and Roger Lee — both of whom were re-elected — Councilors Eric Sanders, Mike Hurley and Mayor Walter Ash.

The Council learned that the Belfast Maskers, the downtown theater group that operates out of a city-owned former railroad building on the Belfast waterfront, has been paying too much for water because its meter is connected to spigot at Thompson’s Wharf.

The bills from 2008 to 2010 have gradually increased, peaking in July, when the Maskers paid a quarterly bill of $385.40. In his manager’s report, City Manager Joe Slocum speculated that the outdoor spigot was being used by people washing boats and trailers.

“With four performances a year there, it’s difficult to believe that the toilets were flushed over 2,500 times,” he said.

As compensation for the overpayment, Slocum said the Maskers agreed to accept an amended quarterly water bill of $45 and a waiver of December’s rent payment of $600. Slocum said he didn’t know the exact amount the Maskers had overpaid over the period of three years, but said it could be more like $1,000.

Nearly all of the city councilors thought the city should reimburse the Maskers more than $600. The question, not easily answered, was how much more, and what was an appropriate monthly bill?

Sanders suggested looking at the billing history for precedent, but Slocum said there was never a “normal” bill, one that didn’t include the outdoor spigot.

Delune said she couldn’t imagine the theater using much more water than a two-bedroom house, and several councilors agreed that her estimate was in the right ballpark.

Lee suggested the Maskers pay the minimum, like a residential customer would — supporting documentation put that figure at $58.50 per quarter — while Hurley thought a set fee might be better, since the water supply is shared by the theater and boaters.

Hurley then turned his attention to the fees paid by boaters who use Thompson’s Wharf.

“Does it include water?” he said.

“It does now,” said Slocum. “It may be a rate that has to be adjusted.”

The Council settled on Delune’s recommendation that the city charge the Maskers $35 per quarter and reimburse the actual amount overpaid, to be determined.

In other business, the Council:

• Agreed to draft two letters of support for Seaport Family Practice. The independent health center is applying to become a Federally Qualified Health Center, a change that would potentially expand the size of the practice to include mental health, dental and other services.

Representatives of Seaport Family Practice held a public meeting on the plan in October, and on Nov. 16 Dr. David Loxterkamp addressed the Council to challenge what he sees as a public misperception that Seaport intends to compete with Waldo County General Hospital.

“What’s been fascinating for me in proposing this is to realize you don’t come into a vacuum,” he said. “To introduce a community health center to the community means that people are going to wonder, ‘how does this jeopardize my position?’ ‘how does this change the dynamics of the community?’”

Loxterkamp detailed his efforts to work with a number of local health-care providers, including WCGH, Midcoast Mental Health and WaldoCAP. “I’ve really enjoyed the process, I’ve learned a lot through the process, and I see it as a necessary process, even though it’s something I never learned in medical school to do,” he said.

• Approved a request by Em Bee Cleaners to apply for a state brownfield assessment grant on behalf of the business for its former facility on Church Street.  Belfast Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge said the 45-year history of the property as a dry cleaning business suggested that there was a likelihood of contamination, though he didn’t know how much. He described the redevelopment as both an economic development issue and a public health issue.

Hurley described downtown Belfast as having been like an industrial park for much of its history. “From planting trees all around the downtown, you quickly find that there are locations where nothing will grow,” he said. “ And you can only imagine what people came out with buckets and poured on the ground from the lodges and factories.”

Kittredge said there was no financial contribution required of the city beyond the staff time required to submit the application and administer the grant.

• Reappointed Biff Atlass (3-year term), Dana Keane (1-year term) and Roy Rogers (2-year term) to the city’s Board of Assessment and Review, and reappointed Mary Dutch and Mike Hogan as alternates.

• Approved the 2010-11 New Year’s by the Bay celebration. Organizer Mary Mortier said the event needed donations. These can be mailed to: New Year’s by the Bay, P.O. Box 313, Belfast, ME 04915.

• Approved the downtown “Back to Old Fashioned Christmas” event organized by Our Town Belfast, scheduled for Dec. 3.

• Voted to apply for a Harbor Technical Assistance Planning Grant that City Planner Wayne Marshall said would allow the proposed Downtown and Waterfront Master Plan to go into greater detail and provide information to the Harbor Master and Harbor Committee that would aid future decision-making. Marshall said the $20,000 grant required a 20-percent cash or in-kind match, but said he believed that amount would be covered by existing city expenditures on the Master Plan.

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