August 24, 2014

Windham Veteran's recognition day at the South Portland Military Museum - By David Tanguay

The South Portland Maine Military Museum hosted a contingent of some 35 Windham Vets and their wives and friends at the Military Museum form 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, August 19. Veterans from the Windham American Legion and VFW Post along with other local veterans attended the impressive display of military artifacts, uniforms, weapons and period news articles. All came away with an appreciation for the dedication and amount of work put into the museum by the Director and Chief Curator Lee Humiston and his staff of volunteers. 

One display in particular touched many of the veterans. This was the only exact replication of the infamous Hanoi Hilton, Prisoner of War cell experienced in Vietnam. The museum has archived over 4,000 artifacts and 300 uniforms in addition to those currently on display. Every veteran indicated that it was well worth the trip and would encourage others to visit the museum. In addition to the time spent in the museum, the veterans and families were treated to a picnic style lunch and a wonderful opportunity to reminisce about times past. For additional information on the museum, visit

Future of Stimson hall in voters' hands - By Tracy Scheckel

The Gray Town Council held a workshop on August 19 to address a Director of Economic Development, the future of Stimson Hall, and email correspondence.

Gray has been working without a Director of Economic Development (DED) since early May when Beth Humphrey resigned. In June the voters approved an additional part-time position to assist with planning in the community development /planning department. A lengthy discussion took place over the possibility of combining the two sets of duties into one position. Councilors Lewis Mancini and Peter Gellerson were very much in favor of such an option, while Councilor Lynn Gallagher felt that combining the duties might spread the person too thin and compromise the quality of work. Ultimately, the council charged Town Manager Deborah Cabana to assess the skill sets of the Planner, Doug Webster and the newly hired code officer, Tom Reinsborough, and then create a job description for a new employee in the department whose skills will fill in any gaps. 

As it appears that the Monument Square redevelopment initiative is at a complete stall, the council is back to considering what to do with the three municipal properties located on Shaker Road. An RFP for real estate marketing services saw only one response on which the council took no action. The former town hall and post office date back to the 1970s and are vacant and in disrepair, Stimson Hall, the third building on the property is an historic building, once serving the Universalist Church which was subsequently donated to Gray for municipal use. 

For the past few years, Stimson has been leased to Covenant Family Fellowship whose lease will end in early fall, thus the town now needs to address the future of that building. At its last meeting, the Council decided to craft a ballot question for the November elections to see what the public’s wishes are. Cabana presented a draft for discussion at the workshop. Essentially it is a multiple choice question: 1. Approve and expenditure of up to $500,000 for the purpose of renovating Stimson Hall with the Town maintaining possession. 2.Dispose of Stimson Hall, which could include selling and possible demolition of the building.

The consensus of the council was for the manager to fine tune the question making sure to include an estimate of future maintenance costs along with the initial expenditure estimate and bring it forward at the next meeting on September 2 for further discussion. During the discussion, chair Matthew Sturgis expressed his opinion that, due to their proximity and shared parking, the future of the other two buildings on the Shaker Road site hinges on the outcome of the Stimson Hall decision. The other councilor, sans Matt Doughty who was not at the meeting, shared his opinion and plans to wait until after the public weighs in on Stimson at the November election before making any decisions regarding the former town hall and post office.

Regarding email, Sturgis commented, “I just want to reinforce that email correspondence should be at a minimum, and that we (the council) should be conducting our business here at meetings.” He emphasized that he wasn’t implying that been business had conducted via email, but just wanted to take the opportunity to remind everyone that emails are public documents should not contain anything that a councilor wouldn’t say at a public meeting.

The next meeting of the Gray Town Council is September 2 at 7 p.m.

New Gloucester BOS seeks applicants for school board appointment, sets 2015 mil rate - By Tracy Scheckel

Prior to its regularly scheduled meeting on August 18, the New Gloucester Board of Selectmen (BOS) conducted a Board of Assessor’s meeting in order to set the mil rate for financial year 2015 and to sign the certifications for the tax commitment and assessment. The town’s property valuation increased by approximately $4 million or about 1 percent. New Gloucester’s contracted tax assessor advised that the state approved mil rate ranged between $14.46 and $15.18. Ultimately the board voted to approve a mil rate of $14.50 reflecting an increase of 7.8 percent over last year. Town Manager Paul First noted that a combination of a reduction in Maine State funding and an 11 percent in the MSAD 15 assessment to New Gloucester were contributing factors to the increase. The board unanimously approved the mil rate and certified the assessment and commitment of taxes.

At the regular BOS meeting, the board conducted a bid opening for professional design services for the design to mitigate deficiencies in the Outlet Road bridge. Based upon a DOT inspection in April, the “southwest wing is cracked and rotated” and there is “deteriorated concrete in abutment and slab”. Four bids were received and ranged between $11,000 and $47,000 for design services with construction inspection services fees quoted at hourly rates between $65 and $90. The board moved that town staff review the bids and prepare to make a recommendation at a special BOS meeting prior to its regular September 8 meeting.

Manager First reported that the search for a new town planner was complete and that the recommendation is Will Johnston. According to First, Johnston, one of 20 applicants, has an impressive resume and experience as well as a maturity that will well serve the community. Johnston resides in Pownal, and First noted that having a planner living within 15 minutes of town is also of great benefit given the varied hours required of the position. The manager indicated that he anticipated a September 8 start date for Johnston pending BOS confirmation. The board voted unanimously to confirm the hire. In a conversation after the meeting, Paul First noted that there is one planning board vacancy, and applications are available at the town website.

Chair Steven Libby reported on the resignation of Jenny Sprague from the MSAD 15 school board due to her family’s relocation to Gray. School board members representing New Gloucester are required to reside there. When a school board member leaves office before his or her term is complete, the local municipal body is charged with appointing a replacement to serve until the next scheduled school board election, which in this case is June 2015. The BOS will be accepting applications (available at until 6 p.m. on September 15 and is expected to make an appointment at its meeting that night. Applicants are required to be present at that meeting.

Jane Sturgis was appointed to the Community Fair Committee. The 2014 New Gloucester Fair is this Saturday, August 23 from 9 a.m. through 7 p.m. at the fair grounds on Bald Hill Road.
Libby noted that the town office will be closed on September 1 in observance of Labor Day, and that the next regular meeting is scheduled for September 8.

August 23, 2014

GNGDC plans summit - By Tracy Scheckel

The Gray-New Gloucester Development Corporation (GNGDC) has taken the reins of the annual Gray business forum and is working with the support of both Gray and New Gloucester to host the event on November 12th at the Spring Meadows Banquet Facility. 
Historically, the event has provided a platform for information exchange between local business and municipal leadership. This year’s summit will do that and provide some valuable information and insight about doing – and growing - business in Maine and particularly in the Gray-New Gloucester region.
Charles Lawton Ph.D. and John Butera will be the keynote speakers at the summit. Lawton is the Chief Economist with Planning Decisions, Inc. and a regular columnist with the Maine Sunday Telegram. Butera is Governor LePage’s Chief Economic Advisor; jointly they will provide information about methods and resources to help grow economic development in the region. Following the presentations, a panel discussion and information exchange is planned. 

“We are so excited to host this event and to welcome such renowned experts as speakers,” commented GNGDC President, Leo Credit, “I hope all Gray and New Gloucester business owners will mark their calendars and join us.” According to Credit, invitations will be emailed to businesses in Gray and New Gloucester based on the information available on both municipal websites’ business directories. Credit also noted that businesses can send an email with contact information to to insure that they receive an e-vite when they are sent out. The summit is free to Gray and New Gloucester businesses and will feature light snacks and a cash bar. 

The GNGDC was founded four years ago to work with the municipalities and local business to enhance the economic climate in the region. To date the organization had worked on behalf of the Town of Gray to negotiate a TIF extension for the NorthBrook Business and Industry Campus; it has developed and is about to implement a marketing plan for the remaining sites in the NorthBrook Campus; the GNGDC has worked with the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad (MNGRR) to procure the ownership rights to the former interurban railway in order to facilitate the MNGRR relocation to Gray and is also planning a fund-raising campaign for the railroad. 

This summer marked the inaugural issue of Gray–New Gloucester Magazine, the most recent initiative of the GNGDC. The 20-page full color publication highlights businesses, points of interest, annual events, as well as the benefits of doing business in the two communities and is being distributed locally and at Maine Tourism Association kiosks in Yarmouth, Kittery and Bridgton. The Corporation plans to publish the magazine annually and will begin working on the next edition in early fall. Proceeds from the magazine and other GNGDC projects will help to fund future low interest small business loans and business incubator programs in Gray and New Gloucester.

For more information about the Gray-New Gloucester Development Corporation, visit

Gray stays away from fireworks ordiance, council grants new contract zone and poverty abatement - By Tracy Scheckel

A charter amendment, a couple of contract zones and the future of Stimson Hall were on tap for the Gray Town Council at its August 4 meeting. 
The annual interest on the town’s crisis fund has declined in recent years and no longer keeps pace with the rising budgets. Due to the 2014 budget increases, the council was faced with a $71,000 deficit in the account in the current fiscal year. According to the charter, the council was required to address the issue with a mitigation plan. The council charged town staff with the task of developing a plan to resolve the deficit, which it did with the charter amendment proposal. Essentially, the amendment would combine the existing crisis fund with the unassigned fund balance and require a balance of between two-twelfths and three-twelfths of the town’s net operating budget – including assessments to the school district and the county. It is expected that at its September 2 meeting, the council will consider an actual ballot question for the November election.

The council heard an initial presentation by Britton Lumber, a building supply wholesaler, for a contract zone at its Yarmouth Road property asking for additional lot coverage in order to construct an additional storage building. The business is a grandfathered non-conforming use within the Rural, Residential and Agricultural Zone. During discussion, Councilor Matt Doughty commented, “This is exactly what a contract zone should be used for, a way to help grow local business.” Overall, the council was welcoming of the proposal, and encouraged the applicant to continue with the application process.

The council also conducted a final hearing and ultimately approved a contract zone for Advance Realty 2 for its holdings on Yarmouth Road and Brown Street. The contract permits the adjustment of property lines between the two parcels, and provides the owner assurances it may utilize current zoning and maintain any future legally non-conforming rights. The request was prompted by the owner’s desire to remove a dilapidated structure on the Yarmouth Road property. The contract zone insures that the owner can build in the footprint of the building to be removed. The council approved the zone by a vote of 4 to1 with Councilor Lynn Gallagher opposed. Advance Realty 2 plans to remove the building at 7 Yarmouth Road in early fall.

Stimson Hall was another topic for council discussion as the council considers what to do with the building that is falling into disrepair. A lengthy discussion ensued as the council grappled with the need to include the public in the decision and how to pose binding ballot questions to get the public consensus. The council first considered how to ask if the public even had interest in maintaining the building, or whether the town should simply sell or demolish it. Previous estimates to repair the building were, according to Councilor Lew Mancini, in the vicinity of $450,000. Mancini ultimately suggested that the council increase that estimate to account for the continued deterioration of the building and ask the public if it would be willing to appropriate funds to repair it. It was agreed that Council Chair Matt Sturgis would work with Town Manager, Deborah Cabana to craft a two part question for the November ballot, and that the council would review it at an upcoming workshop on September 19.

A handful or residents, including the spouse of Councilor Peter Gellerson wrote to the council asking that it consider a more restrictive fireworks ordinance that is provided in state law. Gallagher and Gellerson spoke in favor or a reduction in the times when shooting fireworks is permitted and further monitoring their use when weather conditions prohibit burn permits. Councilors Sturgis, Mancini and Doughty felt that the state law is more than adequate and that enforcement of a more restrictive ordinance would be difficult. No action was taken.

The council conducted an executive session to hear a poverty tax abatement request. In open session the council approved the abatement of less than $2,000.

The council will conduct a workshop on August 19 to discuss a planner - Economic development staff position, email and correspondence and the municipal properties on Shaker Road.

The next regular council meeting is scheduled for September 2 at 7 p.m. at the Pennell Municipal Complex at 24 Main Street.