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Town Council Chair Report

Town Council Chair Report

Council Corner: Town Council Chair Report

By John Cloutier, Town Council Chair

As we approach the midpoint of my term as Scarborough’s Town Council Chair, I thought it would be timely to highlight some of our work to date:

1) Economic Development: We received approval for our revised Downtown Tax Increment Financing District application. This revision added some key projects to the list of allowable project costs.  As a result, 50% of the debt service associated with the new Public Safety building is now being paid for by new development in the District.  In paying for these expenses in this way, we also realize a “Shelter Benefit” in that we avoid a hefty tax from the State and County that would typically cost 58% of each new tax dollar.  In addition to other exciting projects, we are also now eligible to expense 100% of the construction costs associated with a new Community Center in the same way, should the community decide to pursue one.  

On the development front, we declined a proposal to convert a local hotel into workforce housing.  We received a contract zoning application for a new development on Mussey Rd, which was later withdrawn in pursuit of a less environmentally friendly development that did not require Town Council Approval.  We have thoroughly reviewed an exemption request from Scarborough Downs and authorized the Town Manager to bring forward a limited exemption provided that certain public benefit standards and performance assurances are detailed.  We will also hear a proposal for new housing within the Enterprise Business Park, which was approved for development several years ago, but those approvals have since lapsed.  To date, we have not issued any new exemptions to the GMO this year. 

As of this writing, the Town issued 54 growth permits between 1/1/2022 and 4/26/2022, allowing for 114 new residential dwelling units to be created in town.  Sixty of these units related to an affordable housing development that was approved a few years ago.  Affordable Housing units are exempt from our GMO.  This compares with the corresponding period in 2021 where 135 permits were issued allowing for the creation of 230 new units.  Last year, these permits were issued prior to January 21st at which time we ran out of permits, prompting us to revisit our long-standing Growth Management Ordinance.  As the primary author of this new ordinance, which included a repeal of the old GMO, we strove to simplify the ordinance and close several loopholes.  We determined that all units should be treated equally, regardless of how many people might live in them.  We also eliminated the reserve pool and introduced a new category termed “Council Exemptions”.  The intent with this piece was enhance transparency and accountability for some of the larger projects that are allowed to move forward.  
2) Climate Action: We took action to consolidate the Town’s Pest Management Advisory Committee and Conservation Commission, allowing this talented group to combine forces to advocate and advise on protecting and conserving our natural resources.  We also met with the Sustainability Committee to vet the framework for an electric vehicle charging ordinance… did you know that most major car manufacturers have committed to phasing out combustion engines in the next 10-20 years?  This ordinance will help to ensure that we can gradually transition to this new reality.  We also met with our counterparts in Cape Elizabeth to align on an adaptation philosophy for Sawyer Rd that borders the two communities.  We agreed to further research the effects of allowing mother nature to reclaim the area.  Also, thanks to efforts from town staff and public engagement, we received a grant to study climate adaptation strategies for Routes 1 and 9 near the Marsh.
3) Fiscal Responsibility: We’re in the middle of budget season but have reaffirmed our long-standing objective of consistent and predictable tax rates.  Scarborough has a very low tax rate for a community of our size.  The median tax rate for Maine communities with a population >15k in 2020 was 19.95.  Scarborough’s was 14.69.  We achieve this superior tax rate with successful long-range planning, and a well-diversified tax base.

As always, your feedback is very important to the work that we do.  Please continue to engage and share your perspective with your Town Council, and remember to vote on June 14th!

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Scarborough Town Council.