Council Corner: Decision Time
By Don Hamill
We are facing some big choices with several large capital projects looming on the horizon. They include construction, renovation, and potential consolidation of our schools (est. cost - TBD), building a Community Center/Pool (est. cost $35MM) and expanding our library (est. cost $13MM). The library is the only one of these projects which is in the current proposed FY2022-23 capital budget.
As of this date, we have not prioritized these projects for Scarborough, despite being very far along in our annual budget cycle. Current rough estimates do not fully reflect the potential cost impact from supply chain disruptions, labor and materials shortages, and rising interest rates. Our neighbors in Cape Elizabeth recently adjusted their costs for school improvements from an estimated $80MM to over $140MM. Our numbers will likely be much higher.
We cannot approach planning and priority-setting in a piecemeal fashion. We cannot abdicate our responsibility as leaders and simply continue to move virtually every capital request forward to voters for a decision. This is tantamount to decision by ‘default’ which Merriam Webster defines as: “the failure to do something required by duty.”
This is not business as usual in Scarborough. Our plan forward should include the following:
1) The Town Council, Board of Education and Town Staff must first analyze the top 3 capital project priorities, discuss, and recommend a path forward with timing and steps.
2) This group must engage the project sponsors and the public to facilitate a vigorous discourse on options to validate priorities and plans. We have had a solid track record of this - utilizing workshops and ad hoc committees including the Charter Commission and Community Center and others.
3) The Town Council needs to be the gatekeeper for what moves forward to the public for approval, according to our authority under the town charter and ordinances.
4) The public needs to be responsible to approve large capital expenditures based on ballot measures determined by the Town Council, in a town-wide vote.
We will be defined as a town by how we approach these decisions and the choices we make this year. We need to be respectful of the wishes of the public and responsive, while being honest about what we can afford and focusing on the essentials.
We must act: Our duty as leaders and responsibility to our citizens demands it.
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.