GARDINER — As Gardiner officials start to craft the city budget for the upcoming fiscal year and set policy priorities, they will focus on priorities such as the city’s own workforce, the services it delivers, the city’s infrastructure needs and taxes.
Those are four of the items on a list that was developed Saturday at a planning session for Gardiner’s city council and city manager, held in the Hazzard Reading Room at Gardiner Public Library.
“I think it was time well spent,” Gardiner Mayor Patricia Hart said. “There weren’t any surprises. It was a positive meeting in that we were sharing what we were thinking and our hopes for the city.”
The goal-setting session, facilitated by Craig Freshley, of Good Group Decisions, included a review of the goals the City Council had set two years ago, the last time it met to set goals.
In some instances, a great deal of progress was made.
Based on earlier goal setting, the council has adopted a capital improvement plan that helps set priorities for spending on major projects and vehicle replacements.
Gardiner also has been designated a certified Age-Friendly Community, thanks to the work of a volunteer committee. That also had been a goal spelled out in an earlier planning session.
In others, particularly those requiring input, information or funding from agencies or organizations outside Gardiner, such as improving internet access and expanding regionalization, less has been accomplished.
Freshley told the city officials that the session is also an opportunity to identify special projects to work on throughout the year.
“What are the things that you want to talk about and spend time on at meetings?” he said.
Infrastructure is expected to be one of those things.
The state Department of Transportation is planning to replace two bridges that cross Cobbosseecontee Stream in the coming months and add a pedestrian bridge across the stream.
That work is expected to disrupt traffic and activities in and around Gardiner, Hart said, and she anticipates that the city staff will spend considerable time responding to the effects of those projects, including working with organizations that put on events and communicating with both residents and visitors about delays and detours.
“This is the biggest disruption Gardiner has seen in a long, long time,” she said.
Other infrastructure projects also are expected to require the council’s attention.
At-large Councilor Tim Cusick said Gardiner still has a significant storm drain problem in some neighborhoods near downtown that need addressing.
Also, several elected officials talked about the rate of progress in city’s sidewalk program.
“These are big issues that we need to start thinking about long-term,” Cusick said.
While city officials didn’t talk about specific spending, they did talk about taxes and the services that the city delivers that are paid for by those taxes.
An earlier goal of the City Council was to keep property taxes stable, which was linked to other goals, such as attracting new residents and new businesses to spread the tax burden.
“We don’t have a property tax issue; we have a property valuation issue,” Hart said. “People get fixated on the mill rate, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.”
Lacking the waterfront properties that many of its neighboring municipalities have, Hart said, Gardiner doesn’t have a lot of taxable value.
“The total level of revenue is not a huge amount of revenue,” she said.
In the last year, several lots have been sold at the city-owned Libby Hill Business Park, and councilors said they hoped that trend will continue.
Anne Davis, who served as interim city manager for 17 months between the departure of Scott Morelli and the arrival of Christine Landes, spoke out about supporting the city staff.
As city workers have retired, in many cases those jobs have been cut and the duties of that position have been distributed among other employees.
“It’s close to a tipping point,” Davis said. “Also, the economy is improving, and I think the council needs to be aware that staff members will be leaving for other positions at higher pay.”
Davis recommended starting to consider succession plans and recruiting and training people to work for the city of Gardiner.
As a part of the session, Freshley took councilors through several different scenarios to help them think through how to respond in challenging situations. They also received a refresher course on parliamentary procedure.
Landes said the list that’s developed as a result of Saturday’s session will come before councilors again at a March City Council meeting to be ratified.
Jessica Lowell — 621-5632