MECHANIC FALLS — Voters filled the meeting room at the Town Office on Thursday for a special town meeting to discuss the local referendum question about moving the town’s municipal offices and library to a different building.
The question asks voters to approve a refinanced and expanded bond, adding $500,000 to the existing $224,500 loan on the Town Office. The loan would allow the town to buy a building at 22 Pleasant St. and renovate it to function as a municipal building that would house the Town Office, a council room, library, clerk and town manager offices, police department offices, tax and CEO offices and bathrooms.
Council Chairman Louis Annance said the current building has many problems and costs a lot money for maintenance and repairs.
Town Manager Koriene Low said, “Over the past years we’ve put over $42,000 into repairs above and beyond the original bond loan.”
Annance said the library would be a little smaller than the current one, but everything would fit. A sketch with the potential floor layout, including square footage, showed all of the rooms fitting in the space.
Annance said one of the current problems is too much space.
“We’re heating and maintaining a lot of space we’re not utilizing,” he said.
Resident Tom Webster suggested putting money away each year in a “rainy-day fund” by adding money to the budget that could later be used to pay for a new office.
“Why can’t we slow down and catch our breath?” Webster said. “Keep puttering with this building until the bond is paid off. Then build on the land next to it what the town wants.”
He added, “If we put aside $100,000 a year for four or five years, that would save on the interest, which would be an extra $300,000.”
Council Vice Chairwoman Cathy Fifield said if the town were to have a rainy-day fund, it would increase taxes.
“We want to set aside money for the future, but it doesn’t ever work because no one wants their taxes to go up,” Fifield said.
Annance said the council’s thinking is that the town has the opportunity to buy a $600,000 building at half the price, and building a new office could cost close to $2 million.
If the town passes the referendum, the current office would be sold. Annance said there is a buyer interested in the building to convert it into a senior housing development.
Until a sale goes through, though, the town would still be responsible for paying for maintenance and fees.
Councilor Nicholas Konstantoulakis said if the building is sold, it would generate profit through taxes.
“No matter what proposal we take, there’s a lot of ifs,” resident Eriks Petersons said.
Annance said some of the building’s problems are that both heating systems need attention; there’s raw wood in the frame; the vinyl siding needs to be repaired; the insulation installed was lax so the heating cost is high; a part of the rubber roof blew off in a storm; and there’s buckling in the walls.
“I believe it’s time for this building to move on,” one resident said.
“We have this opportunity with a real substantial building,” Petersons said. “The town has to take advantage of the situation available.
All of the councilors said Thursday they would vote yes on the referendum question next week.
“We really appreciate everyone’s input,” Annance said. “We want to see you get in there and make your check mark either way. This is something we think is in the best interest to the taxpayers.”
Mechanic Falls voters will decide Tuesday whether this former medical building at 22 Pleasant St. will become the new town office. (Sun Journal File Photo)