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Town meeting

Voters approve salt shed design, town audit; elect new selectman

By Kendra Caruso | Apr 27, 2021
Photo by: Kendra Caruso Over 100 residents sit in the Thorndike Fire Department's parking lot April 24 for the town's annual meeting.

Thorndike — Thorndike residents approved a sand and salt shed design at the town’s April 24 annual meeting. They also approved a town audit, elected a new selectman and changed how residents vote for selectmen.

More than 100 residents attended the nearly 4 1/2-hour meeting, but after almost two hours devoted to discussing and voting on the salt and sand shed, over half of them left. Fewer than 50 people stayed for the rest of the meeting.

Residents chose a salt and sand shed design based on three options presented to the town by A.E. Hodsdon Consulting Engineers, which was hired by selectmen. Each option varied in price and lifecycle cost. Option A was a steel-framed fabric building for $423,000, option B was a laminated arch building for $447,000 and option C was a conventional construction building for $467,000.

Residents chose option A with a poured concrete foundation. Option A had two foundation options; a precast concrete foundation would have dropped the overall construction cost to $365,000.

Al Hodsdon spoke on behalf of the engineering firm, saying that the construction market is volatile, with materials like wood and steel increasing in price. The estimates were based on similar projects built within the last two years.

Selectman Jeff Trafton said the fabric on the fabric building design needs to be replaced every 15 to 20 years. The town could add a roof to the structure in a few years.

Resident Tim Veazie, who is also acting fire chief, said the engineering firm’s estimate for a conventional building was twice as much as the cost to build the Fire Department building about 20 years ago. He questioned whether construction costs had really gone up that much. There has been a significant increase in construction costs since the Fire Department was built, Hodsdon said.

Janet Abrahamson, who worked on the state’s Surface Water Ambient Toxics Committee, said it has been known for a number of years that the river near the previous salt and sand shed site was being degraded at least in part by the site’s salt runoff. She said if something is not done soon the town could be sued by the state or another entity.

Another resident wanted to know what happened to a design estimate presented at last year’s annual meeting by previous selectmen that was only $240,000. Former Selectman Josh Ard said the engineer's estimate for a steel-framed fabric building with a precast concrete foundation is the same building design he and previous selectmen presented at the last annual meeting, but the engineering company’s estimate is much higher than the one presented last year.

Ard said it is the same structure that was built in Freedom. Hodsdon said he understood that the Freedom building was erected with some volunteer labor. The town must put the project out to bid and have at least two or more bids on the project or be able to prove that there was no competition, another resident pointed out.

There was some argument over whether the foundation that currently sits at the new Route 139 property is sufficient to put a structure on. Selectman Bob Carter said the Department of Environmental Protection advocates against using blocks in the structure, because heavy machinery can bump them and knock them out of place sometimes.

He urged residents to consider what type of building was best for the long term. “You’re either going to pay now or pay later,” he said. The selectmen will now put the project out to bid.

Residents also voted to spend $48,750 to have the town’s real estate reassessed. Selectman Doreen Berry said the last time the town had an assessment done was 20 years ago.

Some residents were concerned that doing a reassessment now would not yield an accurate long-term assessment of properties because of the real estate boom the state has seen since the pandemic began. Others were concerned that it would increase property taxes.

“I think you have to let the market settle and then go ahead, but I don’t think this is needed, just not at this time,” Ard said.

Garnett Robinson, whose company, Maine Assessments and Appraisal Services Inc., will be doing the reassessment, said a reassessment does not always mean taxes will increase. A reassessment ensures that like properties are being valued at a similar rate.

Some residents might see their taxes go up or down depending on whether their property is being valued significantly higher or lower than what other like properties are being valued at, he said. Sometimes property taxes will go up on all properties if they have not been reassessed in many years.

Abrahamson said she notices a lot of her neighbors are not being taxed for additions to their properties and she is aware of some people who have moved out of town but still own property in the municipality and claim a homestead exemption.

Berry said the town could wait two years for the reassessment but selectmen have had a number of people complain to them about property valuations. The state values the town’s property at $50 million, but the town values its property at $42 million, she said. “Somewhere along the line we need to close that gap between $42 million and $50 million.”

The state’s 2021 valuation report had Thorndike’s overall property value at just over $58 million. Thorndike’s 2020 tax commitment showed the town’s total property value at $42,554,259.

In other town business, residents elected Charles Greenberg to replace Carter as selectman for a one-year term after a tied vote resulted in a revote. The total budget that was approved at the meeting was $832,547.60, with most of it being raised from taxes.

Residents also voted to change the terms of the three selectmen. The first selectman will be elected to a three-year term, second selectman will be elected to a two-year term and third selectman will be elected to a one-year term, which will start after next year’s elections.

Residents also voted to change the process for electing selectmen to a secret ballot before the town meeting, which will also start next year.

From left, Jeff Trafton, Doreen Berry, Don Berry and Charles Greenberg repeat the oath taken to be a selectmen in Thorndike after the town's April 24 annual meeting. Don was the meeting moderator and was not sworn in as selectman. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
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