Rockport Town Manager’s Report: Budget, audit, collaborative fire and EMS services, street lights

Sun, 01/09/2022 - 1:30pm

    ROCKPORT — In advance of the regularly scheduled Jan. 10 Rockport Select Board meeting, Town Manager Jon Duke circulated his pre-meeting newsletter, which includes financial, public safety and maintenance updates.

    The recent Omicron variant wave of COVID-19 has seen a surge of new cases in our region and as a result we have reached out to our committees to inform them that this is precisely the emergent situation for which we can utilize the Remote Participation Policy so many of our boards and committees adopted this fall. The request to move to remote meetings is not a blanket mandate, but for those committees whose work is self-contained, it seems prudent to minimize the potential exposure even among those operating as safely as possible.


    Assessor Kerry Leichtman is working on the statistical update to the Town’s property values last month. Residents should expect to see letters in their mailbox over the next month informing them of the changes forthcoming and informing them of the opportunity to understand the rationale behind the valuation changes. We hope to wrap up these informational meetings with property owners by spring, or perhaps more appropriately, in the midst of “mud season.”

    Opera House

    We will be purchasing additional equipment for the Parker Meeting Room to expand our capabilities for remote meetings in the weeks ahead. This equipment will allow us to mix remote participants using Zoom with an in-person meeting and stream the proceedings to the public. All of which is surprisingly challenging to accomplish from a technological perspective. I expect this equipment will be installed prior to the Board’s February meeting.


    Prior to Monday’s Select Board meeting, the Board will hold a workshop with our auditor concerning the FY 2020 audit. Meanwhile, our auditor will be in the office next week to conduct our FY 2021 audit. The appearance of COVID in 2020 delayed municipal audits and the work for accounting firms across the board, so the delays with which Rockport has seen in receiving our audits in a timely manner are shared with municipalities everywhere. Some firms have outright ended contracts with larger municipalities because the abundance of work before them. I would expect we should be able to review the FY 2021 audit this spring.

    Work on the FY 2022 budget has begun in earnest. Department heads have submitted their budget requests to Finance Director Megan Brackett and me. We will begin our work once the audit is completed next week.

    Fire Department

    Chief Peasley is continuing to meet with his counterparts in Rockland and Camden to explore opportunities for collaboration for joint fire and emergency medical services. The managers of the three communities plan to meet with the chiefs soon to review their work.

    The fire department, after a relatively quiet period, ended 2021 with a bang... with nine calls in the last few days of the year. I want to thank all our volunteer firefighters for the time they spend away from family and friends during the holiday season and throughout the year.


    After three delays, the Holiday on The Harbor event finally got off the ground, but thankfully not too far off the ground due to fog. We had a record setting turnout on New Year’s Eve with an outstanding firework show, music, and food and drink thanks to Flatbread. Harbormaster Abbie Leonard oversaw a spectacular event that has cause so many community members to remark that perhaps rather than holding this event in the Christmas season it would be a better fit with New Years Eve.

    Prock Marine arrived this week to begin demolition, and eventual construction, of the new pier at the harbor. Thanks to the much-delayed Holiday on The Harbor event, we had many floats still in the harbor to remove prior to construction, so the deep cold temperatures made for a less than exciting time for our Public Works crew as they removed the floats this week. Thankfully, we have avoided a long stretch of deep cold earlier this season which would have made this task a challenge by magnitudes.


    Due to the increasing COVID cases within the region, Library programming is canceled until this wave abates. This decision has been made with an attempt to do our best to keep this building open and operating as it should. The staff has been working diligently to create programs for all sectors of the community to enjoy, so this is clearly a blow as they are doing their best to build momentum. Library Director Ben Blackmon also was informed by the Maine State Library that due to an outbreak of COVID among drivers for the inter library loan program, some loan items may be delayed over the next couple of weeks.

    Phi Builders returned to the library this week to complete the final punch list, though some items may require a return visit in the spring due to the cold temperature causing some repairs to be unsuitable at this time. The new granite pavers have been installed at the building entrance by Farley Inc. and I could not be happier with the final result.


    Obviously the most notable item in this department concerns the decision regarding the 20 Central hotel construction lawsuit. The court’s decision remands the case back to the Planning Board and requests of the Planning Board to once again review the parking and architectural aspects of the site plan. Additionally, the building permit issued by the code officer was rescinded, but this is a relatively obvious decision whereas a building permit only stands on the basis, in this case, on the back of site plan approval. However, I have high hopes the Planning Board will be able to put this item back on their agenda swiftly so that this process can move forward.

    Though we have not yet received the bill from Bernstein Shur from the month of December, at present the Town has spent over $120,000 to defend the actions of the Town in this matter.

    Lastly, the Town has moved to purchase a new permitting software database to be implemented this spring. The new software will be web-based and easily allow inspections in the field to be documented on site via a tablet, provide several users to check on the status of permits, and provide for online permit submission.

    Police Department

    The Town circulated bids for a new police cruiser and received no bids. Chief Gagne is working to look for alternative options, but one dealer indicated Dodge and GM have shut down production of police cruisers for the remainder of 2022.

    The new policy program purchased in conjunction with the Town of Camden has gone into effect and our officers are reviewing the new policies.

    Officer Celjeta Bixhaku graduated from the police academy last month and we have a full staff back at work.

    Public Works

    Winter weather has begun, and our public works department is on the roads plowing and sanding when needed. Those with plowing concerns can log them into the Town’s website at

    The Town recently circulated bids for a new Western Star 4600 truck. The Town received two bids for the truck but only one bidder was able to guarantee the availability of a truck and the truck would not be available until the fourth quarter of 2022.

    We have made some progress in terms of the Town’s streetlights and the list of concerns or outages. In three locations, Winding Way/Old County Road, Kimberly Drive/Rockville Street and on Pleasant Street the electrical service requires adjustment by CMP before we are able to relocate lights to the appropriate location. Pleasant Street is now ready for the installation of the new light, but Winding Way is still awaiting CMP.

    We also have a few mysterious issues with streetlights we are hunting down. On the corner of Route 17 and South Hope Road, we found the light on that corner was missed in the audit conducted by Real Term Energy and will require replacement. Second, we have asked Hedstrom to investigate the light at Rockville and Route 1, which is showing a loss of power. Lastly, we have a light on the corner of Cross Street and Main Street which is showing on the web console to be working, but the LED itself does not appear to be functioning which should be covered by our manufacturer’s warranty.


    I am disappointed we were unable to hold our annual safety training in person as we had planned for January 10th. Safety Committee Chair Diane Hamilton devoted a great deal of time to organize this effort for every town employee. Sadly, the uptick in COVID cases causes us to reconsider a large in-person gathering such as this. The safety committee discussed options to modify this training and elected to pare back the training event.

    The Bureau of Labor Standards will conduct their inspection of Town facilities for our inclusion in the SHAPE program. Our involvement in the SHAPE program provides for the Town reduced worker’s compensation rates and a greater dividend from the worker’s compensation pool. This requires an added layer of attention to the Town’s safety records, but ultimately provides for a safer workplace and lower costs for our taxpayers.

    Town Office

    While this is a time of year for tackling larger projects for the town clerk’s staff, the bulk of the attention moves toward dog licensing and harbor mooring billing. To avoid a late fee, all dogs must be licensed by January 31.