Plans being finalized for Atkinson to join the Unorganized Territory

Stuart Hedstrom • January 10, 2019

DOVER-FOXCROFT — County officials are making preparations for Atkinson to join the Unorganized Territory (UT) on July 1 — the community voted 187-19 (nearly 91 percent) at the November referendum to deorganize. Many of the plans for how municipal services will be provided by the county have been set, but a few are still to be finalized prior to the start of the 2019-20 fiscal year when Atkinson joins the UT.

“Looking forward to when Atkinson is joining the UT, we thought it would be wise to come up with a 1-year transitional contract for next year,” County Manager Tom Lizotte said about snow plowing about 22 miles of future county roads in Atkinson during a Jan. 8 county commissioners meeting.

Lizotte said Atkinson contracts with Dexter resident Chuck O’Brien for maintaining the travelways in the winter, and the community’s current municipal budget includes $112,000 for winter roads. “There are two things, No. 1 he wants to maintain the roads and two, the people of Atkinson are pleased with his performance,” the county manager said. He has met with O’Brien and the day before a proposed contract for the 2019-20 season was mailed to him. This document could be formally approved by the commissioners at an upcoming meeting.

“If this works out you can award the contract to the current contractor for one year and then go out to bid in the spring,” Lizotte told the commissioners about a multiple-year agreement to be sought through a competitive bidding process for plowing beyond a potential one-year deal with O’Brien for the 2019-20 season.

“Summer maintenance we can do as projects arise,” he said. There are no paving projects on the horizon for Atkinson, and as a UT the county would continue a fire protection contract with Dover-Foxcroft and Atkinson residents would still be able to use the transfer station in Dover-Foxcroft.

Most of the community cemeteries are overseen by associations, but one graveyard on the Range Road is owned by the town so the county would assume responsibility as of July 1. Lizotte said a sexton would need to be hired and this position will go out to bid prior to deorganization.

“Most of the cemeteries in our UT are filled up but Atkinson really needs a sexton,” Lizotte said. He said there are still available plots in the Range Road cemetery.

“$5,000 is budgeted for the maintenance of that town cemetery, which basically will be mowing,” Lizotte said.

The county manager said he would be continuing to work with Atkinson selectmen on the transition to the UT leading up to and following the the community’s final annual town meeting in mid-March. A likely warrant item will be to vote on putting the salt/sand pile up for sale as the last major piece of business for the town to take care of before falling under the county government.

Last month the commissioners approved a $1,756,657 2019-20 UT budget, an increase of nearly $267,900 (18 percent). Taking on the provision of municipal services to Atkinson increases the UT budget by $202,500 (approximately 75 percent of the $267, 900 increase). Without this change the spending plan would have risen by nearly $65,400 or 4.3 percent, a fairly standard increase.

The UT population is currently around 770 and this figure will increase by 30 percent with the addition of 200-plus Atkinson residents.

In other business, the commissioners heard a report from Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Tom Capraro who said he spoke with Maine EMA officials on the potential impact of the federal government shutdown. County EMAs receive reimbursements from the state, which these funds coming from the federal level.

“They have got plenty of money for that,” Capraro said, saying the funds to be distributed to the counties have already been received at the state level.

“Basically the day to day operations are OK,” Capraro said, adding that future training stations with the Maine EMA could be impacted by the shutdown.

The county EMA director also said he has met with the Dover-Foxcroft code enforcement officer and an engineer on amending plans for an agency storage garage for vehicles and equipment. “What I’m putting on the top I’m putting on back so hopefully that will drive down the costs or the estimates I’m getting, Capraro said. He said this should help make contractors more likely to bid on the project if there is one story rather than two.

The garage went out to bid twice last year. In May three bids for an EMA storage garage all came in multiple times more than the project budget. The garage estimate was between $85,000 and $100,000, and the bids were for $278,836, $342,848, and $476,638.

A month later the structure was put out to bid again with some revisions to the specs, such as eliminating a $100,000 performance bond requirement recommended by the project engineer and taking out a September completion deadline. Ralph McNaughton Construction of Newport, which bid $278,836 the first time, was the lone bidder for round two (five companies took out paperwork). The second submission from the company was for $259,618.

In July the commissioners passed a motion to waive the competitive bid process and authorize Capraro to negotiate with a contractor at a rate capped at $120,000.