2017-12-06 / Front Page

Kingfield VEC welcomes new members

By Dee Menear Irregular Staff Writer

KINGFIELD — After an extended hiatus, a revamped Village Enhancement Committee held a meeting Tuesday, Nov. 28. The committee welcomed new members Kate Spardello, Lisa Standish and Neal McCurdy. Standish was elected Committee Chair and Spardello was elected Vice-Chair. Spardello will also serve at the committee secretary.

When Standish asked about the status of the Mill Street project, longstanding member Jim Meldrum said that at the June Town Meeting voters had defeated an article seeking $220,000 from the TIF account for the project. “It went before the town and the town voted no,” he said.

Rob MacMichael said the project was not supported by either the Budget Committee or the Board of Selectmen. He felt the reasoning for lack of support was due to a problem with acquiring an easement from one property owner.

Standish asked former VEC member John Goldfrank what his opinion was on the project. Goldfrank felt there were several misunderstandings with the Mill Street Project. He stated the biggest challenge for the committee and the community would be deciding what economic development would look like for Kingfield.

VEC member John Witherspoon agreed and said, “I think it’s a waste of time to have this committee unless there is some kind of plan that the town agrees on that says where we want to go. Not a project plan, but what is the future economic vitality of the town going to be? Is it going to be buying fire trucks? Is it going to be having the lowest taxes around?”

“We need to decide as a committee if we want to tackle that issue wholeheartedly and get that easement or not. That’s what it comes down to,” Standish said.

Besides being turned into a trailhead park and guaranteeing public access to the Carrabassett River, the Mill Street project also included public parking. McCurdy said public parking on Mill Street would never work. “I’ve only been here 50 years but people are never going to want to walk the hill when it’s winter,” he noted.

McCurdy said while he realized he was new to the committee, he felt parking was a priority but felt the townspeople were not interested in a park. There was no further discussion about parking even after McCurdy suggested several options other than Mill Street for parking.

The committee briefly discussed the ongoing streetlight project, which voters approved in June. Since the project is tied in with MaineDOT plans for Route 27 reconstruction, the committee will to ask Road Reconstruction Chairman David Guernsey to give an update at the next meeting.

Standish presented “Community Heart and Soul Field Guide” as suggested reading material for the committee. The 70-page Orton Family Foundation publication outlines a process developed and used by Lyman Orton of Vermont. Orton served on his town’s planning commission and witnessed challenges faced with balancing growth while maintaining small town character. The material was recommended by Betty Gensel of Coastal Enterprises Inc., Standish said.

“My experience in Kingfield over the past almost 20 years is that when there are issues that come before the town, they are often very divisive. People sometimes walk away with real damage done. There is a lack of discussions or meetings to debate issues. This process addresses that and teaches a community to work together,” explained Standish.

“It addresses everybody from people who depend on the United Methodist Economic Ministry right up to the other end of the spectrum. The purpose is to bring a community together so that when it comes to making decisions there is mutual support,” Standish continued.

Standish said the process involves recording stories and histories of the town and townspeople, the publication recommends hiring someone to oversee the project. She urged the committee to read the material to discuss at the next meeting.

Goldfrank reminded the committee that the town was looking at approximately $6 million in future TIF monies over the next 20 years.

“I think the money scares people. I think there is a lack of understanding of where the money comes from and what it can and can not be used for. People look at $800,000 and think ‘Wow, why are we doing that for streetlights and sidewalks instead of lowering my tax bill.’ Well, that just is not an option,” explained Witherspoon. He suggested more communication and education regarding TIF expenditures.

Standish inquired as to whether the committee had an administrative budget. Goldfrank informed her that the committee did not. In the past, any expenditures were filtered through the board of selectmen. Standish said one of the things that should come through the selectmen was a suggested budget of $20,000. McCurdy said a concrete plan would have to accompany such a request.

McCurdy cautioned the committee about public perception saying, “I’ve been sitting on the outside looking in and I’ve thought some of this committee in the past has been a way for people to do what was best for them; there were people looking for individual gains.”

The committee set regular meetings for the second Tuesday of each month at 5 p.m. in Webster Hall. The next meeting will be held Jan. 9, 2018. The meeting is open to the public and attendance is encouraged.

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