City Council 1/17 Meeting Summary

Vactor/Jetter truck

The Sanford City Council met January 17, 2023. All members were present. The meetings of the previous meeting were approved.

Mayor’s Report: Mayor Becky Brink said City administrators are meeting daily with department heads to go over the next year’s budget. Retaining employees has been an issue in all communities. The City is trying to look at the payscale and figure out how to keep current employees as well as fill vacant positions. She said inflation is also having an impact. She called the City Council workshop on goal setting “phenomenal” and said the goals are being clarified and will be posted publicly once they are done. In addition to goals, Council members also discussed how to be a team and accept one another’s differences and how to stay focused on the goals. They also talked about roadblocks to developing new businesses and housing and how to remove those roadblocks. She would like information about new and expanding businesses in town to be announced at Council meetings.

Subcommittee Reports: Mayor Brink said at the Land Bank meeting January 10, one of the items discussed was the proliferation of Air BnB locations in Sanford and how the zoning ordinances might be amended to address these. She also gave a report on the Municipal Operations and Property Subcommittee meeting – see this story. Councilor Ayn Hanselmann provided a report on the Public Safety Subcommittee meeting – see this story.

City Manager’s Report

Safety: City Manager Steven Buck reminded the public about the Safety Info Night for parents on January 19.

Dr. Shah: Mr. Buck announced the departure of Dr. Nirav Shah, Director of Maine CDC, who has been appointed Deputy Director of the US CDC. He called Dr. Shah an exceptional communicator who was a much-beloved figure in the lives of many Maine residents during the height of the Covid pandemic, when he provided regular updates on TV. Mr. Buck joked that he could tell whether the news was good or bad depending on how messy Dr. Shah’s hair was and how many cans of Diet Coke were on the desk. Dr. Shah visited the York County Vaccine Clinic in Sanford several times over the past two years.

Sanford in the News: There will be another article on the RAISE Grant projects in the next issue of Maine Trails magazine, which Mr. Buck said will focus on Sanford’s ability to plan, partner and leverage resources.

Employment: The City has hired several new people recently:

  • Michael Grenier, Police Officer
  • Lauren O’Neil, Dispatcher
  • Richard Southwick, On-Call Snow Plow Operator – Airport
  • Kenneth Tolman, Equipment Operator 1- Highway
  • Daniel Chenard, Police Officer
  • Jeffrey Clark, Dispatcher

In addition, two employees retired but then returned to work in a different capacity: former Deputy Police Chief Tim Strout is now the Professional Development and Property Manager for the SPD, and Al Phillips, a former full-time Custodian, is now working on an on-call basis. Current employees taking on new duties include Matthew Gagné, who has been promoted to Major in charge of Support and Logistics for the SPD, while Rick Smith has taken on the role of Acting Fire Chief.

Mr. Buck reported that the full-time custodial position has just been filled, and several other positions are advertised and pending interviews. The Public Works Department is still significantly understaffed. The assessor that Sanford shares with Old Orchard Beach has just announced he will retired much sooner than anticipated. The newly created position of Engineering Field Inspector/Resident Engineer will be advertised soon. All open positions are posted on the City’s website at: https://www.sanfordmaine.org/departments/human_resources/employment_opportunities.php.

Communications / Presentations

Audit:  Christian Smith of Wipfli, the City’s auditing firm, gave a report on the audit for fiscal year 2021/22. He said there were no findings, and no issues, and called it a “good, clean audit.” No material weaknesses or deficiencies with the City’s financial statements were found. There were no changes in accounting principles, no difficulties in performing the audit, no disagreements with management and no audit adjustments. No errors or mistakes were found. “That speaks very highly of the Finance Department here in the City, as well as at the School Department,” he said. There were two recommendations for the School Department, one about continued monitoring of grant billing practices, and the other was about implementing a 90-day password change requirement for IT security. Both have been accepted and will be implemented in the coming year. “Overall, the financial health of the City is very good,” he concluded.

Mr. Smith reported the following findings:

  • The City’s assets exceed liabilities by $60.8 million.
  • The general fund balance of both City and School is $16.5 million, an increase of $2 million of the prior year, with about 2/3 of that on the school side. He attributed that mostly to state revenue sharing and other revenues being higher than expected.
  • The City has $31 million in cash in the bank, which is fully collateralized and insured.
  • The City’s unassigned fund balance has grown to about $10 million, which represents about 11% of the total budget. The bond rating agencies like to see it between 8% and 16%, so Sanford is in the right place.
  • The School Department’s unassigned fund balance is $2.3 million, which is about 4%. The state allows school districts to carry up to 5%, so again, that is good.
  • Sanford’s City/School total debt service is comparable to other communities, but since much of that is school construction bonds which are covered significantly by the state, we are in a much better position than other communities.

Public Participation: Springvale resident Dianne Connolly expressed her concern about bits of white plastic being left behind by Comcast/Xfinity on the roadways as they are installing their lines. She will bring some down to the City Manager’s office to determine what it is.

Public Hearings

Overnight Parking: A public hearing was held on proposed amendments to the Unlawful Parking ordinance prohibiting commercial vehicles, tractors, trailers, boats, campers/recreation vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, or unregistered vehicles from parking all night on any public way. These amendments have been discussed at length by the Public Safety Subcommittee as well as the full City Council. The Police Department will be able to issue permits for occasional overnight parking in special circumstances. Ms. Connolly asked if the definition of the City’s right-of-way could be added to the ordinance as that is not always clear. Mr. Buck said it differs from street to street, but the information is available at the City Clerk’s office and by looking at the GIS, which is online here: https://www.axisgis.com/sanfordme/.

After the public hearing was closed, there was further discussion by the Council about the right-of-way. Mr. Buck said that telephone poles are almost always placed on the edge of the right-of-way. Public Works Director Matt Hill said that there is also something called prescriptive right-of-way, which refers to the City’s right to maintain. If, for example, the City sidewalk runs across your property, the City has a prescriptive right to clear the snow from it; if a tree on your property is obscuring a stop sign, the City has a prescriptive right to trim the branches. He clarified that the City is very conservative about enforcement, and doesn’t take action unless it is a clear-cut situation. Mr. Buck agreed, and said the examples he showed at the Public Safety Subcommittee meeting were all blatant violations. “Nobody is going to get a ticket for something that is a fraction of an inch,” he said. Councilor Bob Stackpole said it should be the responsibility of the vehicle owner to determine whether or not they are parked in the right-of-way, by looking it up on the GIS or making a phone call to ask. The proposed amendments will have a second reading before the Council votes on them.

Old Business

Dangerous Building: The Council voted to extend the continuation of the dangerous building hearing regarding 11 Kimball St. to February 21, 2023, pending reinspection and pending a compliance plan.

New Business

Acting Fire Chief: The Council affirmed the appointment of Assistant Fire Chief Rick Smith as Acting Chief until a new Chief is hired. Mr. Buck said in making the appointment, AC Smith’s education and qualifications, as well as his service as Fire Chief in another community were the deciding factors.

Water District: The Council voted to authorize and approve a Letter of Support for the Sanford Water District’s request to the Maine Public Utilities Commission for waiver of requirements under Chapter 69, Determination of Fire Protection Revenues for Water Utilities. Water District Superintendent David Parent explained that Sanford has lost much of its industrial water usage in the past 10-15 years, and that conservation by homeowners has also played a part in reducing water usage. When he started with the District, it was pumping an average of 2.7 million gallons of water a day, peaking at 4.5 million gallons, but now has dropped to an average of 1.6 million gallons and peaking at 2.4 million or so. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in Maine has an antiquated rule that says public water utilities are primarily in the business of fire protection, with providing water to the public as more or less a sideline. So, the more water a utility produces, the more it is considered to be providing water to the public, but the less water a utility produces, the more it is considered to be about fire protection. The PUC says municipalities need to pay their fair share of fire protection, so as consumption has dropped, the City of Sanford is expected to pay a larger percentage of the Water District’s total revenue. The City should be paying over 27%, but is currently paying only about 22%. Mr. Parent said he has been able to ignore the rule in the past because he expected consumption to increase, but the PUC will not let him ignore the rule any longer. A five percent jump in the City’s water bill would be a big hit for taxpayers, so he proposing to increase the percentage the City pays by 1% a year for five years. He said the PUC staff is on board with the idea, but it still has to go through a hearing.

Vactor/Jetter Truck: The Council approved the Public Works Department’s purchase of a 2014 Vactor/Jetter truck from the Sanford Sewerage District, for the purpose of cleaning out ditches and culverts and closed drainage systems. Mr. Buck said the truck is one of the top priorities of the Fleet Management Program, has a lot of life expectancy left, and the $175,000 price tag is within guidelines.

Independent Fee Estimate: The Council approved a contract with Bill Gerrish of Northeast Civil Solutions to perform an independent fee estimate for the engineering contract for the East Apron Seal Coating project at the Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport. Airport Manager Allison Navia said the estimate is required by the FAA and is the first step in the project to preserve the pavement at the Airport.

Airport Advisory Committee: The Council approved an amended charge for the Airport Advisory Committee, to clarify the Committee’s mission and membership requirements, and add an attendance policy.

Chicken Ordinance: The Council discussed modifying the Residential Chicken Overlay Map. The proposal to remove the Urban Zone from the map, which would allow residents in those areas to keep up to six hens provided they meet all setbacks, and add a 50’ setback to any commercial establishment, was discussed by the Zoning Subcommittee in December. Mr. Buck said zoning was originally established in the US to keep animal husbandry out of high-density areas for sanitation purposes. Mayor Brink said she was concerned about chickens spreading disease. Councilor Pete Tranchemontagne said he didn’t think chickens should be allowed in downtown areas. Councilor Jonathan Martell, who spearheaded the discussion at Zoning, said diseases are primarily spread in large commercial operations, not in small flocks that are not in contact with other flocks. He argued that people who have sufficient space should be allowed to raise chickens. “If you have priced eggs lately, you can understand why people want to have them,” he said. He motioned to move the proposal ahead, but no one seconded it, so it will not go forward.

Vacant Council Seat: The Council discussed possible procedures for filling the vacancy on the Council, which was created when Mayor Brink resigned her Council seat to take the Mayoral seat. She outlined the options, which are:

  • Appointment by the Council to fill the vacancy for the remainder of 2023, with the seat being up for election in November to fill the final year of the 3-year term. (Ms. Brink served the first year of the term, this is the second year.)
  • A Special Election in June to fill the seat for the remainder of the term, to be held at the same time as the School Budget Validation vote.
  • Leave the seat vacant for this year, and have the third year of the term decided at the regular election in November.

Councilor Tranchemontagne asked about the cost of a special election. Mr. Buck said it would cost about $5,000. Deputy Mayor Herlihy said in odd-numbered years like this one, when there are no primaries, there is a very low turnout for the School Budget Validation. Councilor Stackpole said he would like to see the seat filled as soon as possible, as there is the possibility of a 3-3 tie on some issues that come before the Council. Councilor Martell said he preferred to have the voters decide who is representing them. Councilor Hanselmann said in her view, the constituents have put faith in the Council to make decisions. Deputy Mayor Herlihy said if the Council agrees to appoint someone, there would be an interview process that is open to the public.

Councilor Stackpole suggested that rather than an application, interested people send a letter of interest with a two-page limit. The majority of the Council agreed to seek letters of interest and appoint someone to serve for the remainder of this year. Councilor Martell was the sole vote in opposition. Mayor Brink said the Council will work on questions for the applicants ahead of time.

Councilor Comments

  • Mayor Brink announced upcoming Council and budget workshops.
  • Councilor Tranchemontagne praised SHS wrestler James Blood, who has won his 100th match, and Coach Paul Rivard for their hard work.
  • Deputy Mayor Herlihy announced that she gave blood for the first time, and encouraged other people to do so. She was not allowed to donate in the past because she lived in Scotland during the mad cow disease epidemic there.

You can view the full meeting video at Town Hall Streams here and on YouTube here.

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