Law enforcement, casino, town matters dominated 2013

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By Amanda Johnson and Christopher Crosby

AREA—Recapping the year’s top stories, the Advertiser Democrat takes a backward glance at the events that grabbed headlines.

MaxxParis voters nearly axed the police department and instead hired a new chief; welcomed a new town manager, and – after terse encounters at selectmen’s meetings , eased into detente.

Buckfield voted to withdraw from RSU 10 but are still seeking a $20,000 way out; plans to build a new fire-rescue station were greenlighted after an architect declared the current stations condition deplorable.

Building off the high-profile development of the casino two years ago, Oxford checked off a few items on its list to bring more businesses to the town, agreeing to a $15 million financing package with resort developers, and tapping into future development by connecting businesses to a new, proposed waste-water treatment facility.

BUCKFIELD—Citing high costs and declining standards, in June Buckfield voters approved a referendum to begin withdrawing the town from RSU 10 school district.

In the months leading up to the decision, voters learned that the town’s share of education costs had increased on annually nearly $84,000, about 7.3 percent since joining the school district.

Residents were also concerned that several key promises tauted by supporters during consolidation, included greater access to Advanced Placement courses, were not being fulfilled.

Opponents to the plan argued administrators had cut nearly $2.6 million in costs since bringing three separate districts together in 2009 and feared organizers would not be able to find a less expensive plan for educating students.

A steering committee budgeted $20,000 to devise and negotiate a withdrawal plan with RSU 10 and state education officials met set back after Sumner, with whom Buckfield had hoped to draw into a new district, rejected separating from RSU 10 in November.

Maine Department of Education officials have given the town until March to submit a plan.

BUCKFIELD— Voters narrowly squeaked through a plan to build a $1 million fire-rescue station and demolish the dilapitated buildingwhich has served as the town’s station for 60-years.

The close 31-28 vote on June 15 reflected resident’s concerns that the town simply couldn’t afford the project. Portland-based architect Andrew Hyland, hired by the town to advise and draft plans for the station,  recommended demolishing the current building instead of renovating it, declaring the dilapidated building “unsafe” and saying that it would prove costlier to repair than rebuild.

The station is expected to open next fall.

OXFORD— On Dec. 5 Oxford selectmen bought  state-of-the-art water filtration equipment to be housed in a new waste-water treatmewnt facility, progress, albiet slower than initially anticipated, in a $20 million plan to create a complete network of sewage pipes along Rt. 26 and through residential areas.

The proposed facility pump incoming waste-water through a series of membranes, sloughing-off solid waste and then treat the water with UV light instead of traditional, chemically-dependent systems. Town Manager Michael Chammings believes this is the first system of its type in the state.

OXFORD— A developer announced a $125 million, 550-acre “master plan” to build a restaurant, hotel, and retail shops on land across from the Oxford Casino.

On August 7 Oxford-based Casalinova Development Group revealed the plan, which would utilize and whose taxes would help pay back, a $20 million plan to build a new waste-water treatment facility and network of sewage pipes.

OXFORD— On Dec. 5 the town signed a $15.4 million credit enhancement with Thurlow LLC, a deal allowing developers to recoup a portion of their taxes generated from property taxes in exchange for infrastructure development.

Under the agreement, 20 percent of the income tax generated from property on which developers hope to build a 80 to 100 room hotel will be set aside for the town to use to reimburse specific sewage, paving, draining, and landscaping projects.

The property planned for the hotel is situated in Oxford’s Tax Increment Financing District that allows the town to shelter property that increases in value due to development.

According to the deal, the town will annually allocate 20 percent of the taxes generated from the increased property taxes, about $367,500, into a town-controlled account used to repay Thurlow LLC.

The deal is part of the first phase in a “master plan” to develop land across from the Oxford Casino called for by Oxford-based Casalinova Development Group.

NORWAY— Declared unsafe, the home of a deceased woman the town had acquired from unpaid taxes was voted to be torn down, against the pleas of the woman’s son.

On Oct. 3 selectmen voted to tear down the 1830 town house on Main Street, once owned by the late Ramona Moore, after time given to her son to improve the property expired.

Moore, who died in 2012 from breast cancer, owed the town $3,225 in back taxes from sewer fees and, unpaid, Norway acquired later it.

Selectmen intially stayed a decision to demolish the building August, providing the former property owner’s son, Tom Moore, the chance to remove debris and repair the home.

However after touring the building, selectmen made what they called “a tough decision” and decided Moorse lacked the resources to salvage the situation.

NORWAY— Once threatened out of existence, the 1894 Opera House kicked off its revival by welcoming five new businesses to renovated ground-floor commercial spaces on March 1.

A partial roof collapse in 2007 flooded businesses and the iconic building was declared to be in imminent danger of collapse by engineers.

Then, in 2012, after the property’s owner refused to strike a deal with the town, Norway took ownership of the vast building with the help of a $200,000 donation from residents Bea and Bill Damon.

After five months and nearly $1 million in renovations, the first commercial space was leased.

A considerable amount of work still remains to renovate the entirety of the 17,618 square-foot building. A speculative $200,000 grant to repair its back wall and roof was rejected in December and architects say it will cost $2 million to restore it.

PARIS— On June 13 voters handily rejected a proposal which would have disbanded the town’s police department ion favor of hiring the services of Oxford County Sheriffs.

Proponents of the referendum cited the cost-savings from hiring the sheriffs office, which was $163,000 less than the police department’s budget.

Worries that an agreement with sheriffs would have to be renegotiated after five years at potentially a higher cost and fearing a lost of local control, proved far stronger with 64 percent of voters shooting down the referendum.

PARIS— After a national search, the Paris Police Department hired a 28-year law enforcement veteran to chief a department once headed toward disbandment.

Michael Madden was sworn in as the new Chief of the Paris Police Department on Oct. 3. Madden’s arrival  brought stability to a department low on morale after former Chief Michael Dailey resigned following a June referendum in which two-thirds of voters rejected a plan to hire Oxford County Sheriffs for coverage.

Since taking over the top job, Madden has taken initial steps to update the department’s police handbook, filled out the department’s vacancies, hiring Dectective Sgt. Jeffrey Lange, and changed the cosmetic appearance to the station.

PARIS— In October the McLaughlin Garden & Homestead purchased abutting property, ending months of speculation and resident comments whether a developer would build a new Family Dollar site on the land.

The sale caused a stir among residents after neighboring property owner Korienne Low, Minot, said that the deal went against her wishes and was conducted behind her back after representatives from the non-profit convinced owners of Maurice’s Restaurant to rescind an initial agreement allowing Family Dollar trucks to use his driveway.

WEST PARIS— Firefighters from 10 towns spent nearly five hours extinguishing a blaze at a scrap-metal yard that engulfed 41 vehicles on August 19.

The accidental blaze at West Paris Metals began after a worker cutting through metal at the yard sent sparks and ignited a nearby scrap vehicle, a conflagration that spread quickly among the junked vehicles piled together.

Though not the first fire at the facility, owner Ernie Yap said the inferno was a “wake up call” to improve safety measures at the facility, including installing fire breaks between stacked vehicles.

In October, selectmen renewed Yap’s junkyard permit despite safety concerns from residents.

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