(from the November 2009 Maine Townsman)

From Around the State and City Hall

Augusta: Officials from 20 municipalities agreed this month that service is better and costs are lower for dispatch services from the Somerset County dispatch center, located in Skowhegan, than from the state-operated regional communications center, based in Augusta. Complaints by residents also have declined with the switch, officials told the Kennebec Journal.

Biddeford: The city council voted 5-4 in October to approve a new contract with the police union, the first of five unions that represent city employees to reach agreement with the council. The new contract does not provide any pay raises in the first year, as the council directed for all unions while developing the 2009-2010 municipal budget. Officers will get raises of one to three percent, depending on the Consumer Price Index, in the second year of the new pact. The city employs 250 people and 170 of them are members of unions.

Harrington: Residents are upset over a new 350-foot communications tower that some are blaming for lowering their home values. The tower was apparently approved in April without a public hearing by the planning board.

Millinocket: An attorney for the town’s school board opined in October that the town council could not legally use $250,000 left over from the school department’s budget to hold down the property tax rate. Based on a different opinion from the town attorney, the town council has taken the position that the town is able to use these unspent funds for property tax relief.

Orono: A group of more than 30 public and private entities has been awarded an $8 million grant under the Federal Stimulus Act to develop a tidal power test center in Maine. A number of offshore sites have been identified as possible locations for a test center. The University of Maine is taking the lead in the effort, which could ultimately lead to new jobs and renewable energy in several areas of the state.

Portland: The city council will use a $660,000 federal Economic Development Administration grant to build roads and other infrastructure for a 26-acre business park. The city is working with neighboring South Portland and Westbrook to develop lots and buildings to compete for Boston-area biotechnology companies looking to expand.

South Portland: City firefighters and the council reached agreement in early November on a new two-year contract that includes a promise not to lay off any of the nearly 50 firefighters -- except for five new firefighters who have been employed less than a year. In exchange, union members agreed to forego across-the-board raises. The department also will not hire any additional staff, under the contract. Employees can get pay increases for fitness training and additional education.

Turner: Selectmen voted in early November to acquire a parcel of land adjacent to the town office and agreed to seek bidders interested in removing the building from the site, while preserving the structure. The building has been home to various businesses since being built in 1850.

Westbrook: A dispute between the city and one of the state’s best-known asphalt companies, Pike Industries, was headed to a court showdown in November after Pike began trucking crushed stone from a company quarry city officials ordered shut down in July. The company is appealing a zoning board ruling earlier this year that revoked Pike’s permit for the quarry. The action is only the latest in a long history of tension among city officials, the company and neighbors of Pike’s two quarries in Westbrook.

Whitefield: In response to strong opposition by some property owners, selectmen this month suspended implementation of a town-wide revaluation and decided to send tax bills to residents based on last year’s assessments. A group of residents presented selectmen with a list of 275 signatures of taxpayers calling for a special town meeting so residents could consider repealing the revaluation, which increased property values from the present 62 percent of fair market value to 100 percent. Selectmen plan to use the discarded revaluation as a starting point for redoing the old assessments.

Wilton: At the urging of Town Manager Rhonda Irish last summer, The Wilton Group has been revived with new enthusiasm to promote the town and get more residents involved in supporting municipal and business initiatives. The group was first organized in 2005, but interest declined and membership dropped. A special breakfast was held in early November to attract more volunteers and keep the new momentum alive.

Farmington: The recession and a much lower Consumer Price Index average will result in municipal employees taking a small pay cut for fiscal year 2010. Last fall, employees got a pay increase of almost five percent based on a new policy that used the CPI average for the past 12 months. Because of deflation over the past 12 months, this year’s CPI computes to a .68 percent decrease in pay.