Bristol Notes - December 2019
For the Bristol Selectmen:
Chris Hall, Town Administrator
Greetings from the Bristol Town Office as we approach the end of another year. 2019 has seen progress in a number of areas, and frustrations in others. Maine DoT finished the long-overdue repaving of Route 130, and some Town projects were completed, while others are in progress. One big one – the repair of the Bristol Mills Dam and its new fish ladder – has been delayed for another year because wet weather and high water prevented the start of work this fall.
The period from December until the Town Meeting on March 17th is a busy one involving auditing the 2019 numbers, writing the Town Report, preparing the annual budget, and conducting hearings before the Board of Selectmen and Budget Committee for each department of the Town – School, Parks and Recreation, Fire and Rescue, and the Town Office (the latter including highways and infrastructure).
Even before the departmental budgets have been pulled together, we know that we face an increase in the property tax mill rate. The School budget is on an academic year basis (July to June), so that only 50% of last year’s increase (driven by increased enrolment) was reflected in the property tax assessment for 2019. We had to raise the mill rate from 6.25 to 6.75 last year; the second part of the 2019 increase suggests another half mill rise this year even if no other costs increase. To a large extent the School’s costs are beyond our short-term control, driven by enrolment and the state’s requirements for, for example, special education. The fact that the School accounts for 70% of our property tax burden, though, means that it will undoubtedly receive greater scrutiny this year!
The Selectmen were very happy to check off ‘done’ against the two Bristol Mills bridge projects finished in 2019, at Upper Round Pond and Redonnett Mill Roads. In 2020 we expect to begin studying the options for two more bridges over the Pemaquid River, the Benner Road Stone Arch Bridge in Bristol Mills and the Hatchtown Bridge on the Lower Round Pond Road. The Stone Arch is a valuable piece of Bristol’s history, a two-hundred-year-old mortar-free arch listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks. Selectmen want to maintain the integrity of this bridge, and we will explore whether to build a new structure alongside it or to bury reinforcement within the stone structure to support the pounding of modern traffic. The Hatchtown Bridge dates from 1941, and its concrete is in need of repair or replacement. Both of these are projects for 2021 or later, and will likely require borrowing by the Town.
The new beach pavilion at Pemaquid Beach is under construction, with the concrete foundations having been poured in November just ahead of the snow. The Parks Department intend to complete this in May ahead of the park opening for the summer on Memorial Day.
The new girls’ ballfield at the Bristol Consolidated School had its base finished in October by Hanley Construction, and the school will finish the surface and fencing in the spring. The school’s Boosters’ Club is still raising funds for the scoreboard and dugouts – contributions will be gratefully received!
Concrete work on the toe of the Bristol Mills Dam is needed before work can start on the new fish ladder, which will have its entrance pool at the base of the dam. We have scheduled the contractor, Knowles Industrial Services, for July 1st, in the hope that this can be finished before the permit for the in-water work on the fish ladder commences on July 15th. We need to lower the water in the swimming hole enough to stop water flowing over the top of the dam, but hopefully this will not close the swimming hole. Later in the fall, after the swimming season, we will drain the dam fully to do more concrete work on the upstream face of the dam.
The cost of the new fish ladder is driven in large part by the expense of putting stone facing around the pools of the ladder. Experience with the Damariscotta Mills ladder has shown that irregular stone facing, breaking up the water flow as compared to smooth concrete walls, is what will attract alewives up the ladder. The cost of the project can be significantly reduced if we can collect donations of stone of the right specifications. If you have unwanted stone walls, for example, or other supplies of large rounded cobble stones (ideally 12 to 24”), please consider making a donation.
Town Meeting 2019
Please save the following dates if you expect to be at home in Bristol in March!
- Monday, March 16th is the Town election, 8 am to 8 pm at the Bristol Mills Fire House;
- Tuesday, March 17th, open Town Meeting at the Bristol School gym, 7 pm.
The following positions will be voted on Monday March 16th: one Selectman, one member of the School Board, one member of the Parks Commission and two members of the Planning Board, all for three-year terms.
The next ‘Bristol Notes’ will report all the doings at Town Meeting, in late March.
Bristol is working with Damariscotta, Newcastle and other Lincoln County towns to explore the costs of updating our street lights to new LED lighting. This offers the prospect of a big reduction in electricity use and therefore cost. New ‘smart’ LED lights can be individually controlled for intensity and timing, and can be focused directionally to prevent light pollution of our dark skies. However I expect we will have a considerable discussion as to what color of light and what type of fixtures to acquire, and this will be an opportunity to review the placement and need of our existing stock of over 40 street lights, which are mostly at road junctions. Feedback about ‘your’ street light or lighting in general would be most welcome.
Locally just as much as nationally, there is great pressure to expand rural broadband coverage to ensure all homes have the opportunity for high-speed access to the internet. Only about two thirds of Bristol have reliable cell phone service, adequate enough for fast internet access. About three quarters of Bristol homes have either Spectrum cable or Tidewater Telecom fiber (or both) passing within a utility pole or two of them; but residents who live on roads without either wires or adequate cell service face a number of issues. Leaving aside streaming video programs and games, their children have difficulty doing homework that assumes web research; they cannot conduct business or work from home; and their property values are depressed as buyers increasingly expect high quality internet service.
Selectmen have appointed a volunteer Broadband Committee to do three things: measure needs by mapping the present coverage level for each type of service; assess the cost-effectiveness of what other towns have done to promote 100% broadband availability; and identify grants and other funding opportunities to deliver broadband to the unserved parts of Bristol. If you would like to help or to join the Committee, please contact the Town Office.
Town Clerk Rachel Bizarro would like to gently remind residents that dog licenses must be renewed before January 31st each year. The state levies a $25 penalty on late renewals. Dog licensing ensures rabies vaccination, which protects the health of your pet. Licensing your dog also directly helps fight animal cruelty and abuse: 90% of dog license fees go directly to the Maine Animal Welfare Program. You can renew at the Town Office, or online by clicking here.
You must have a current Rabies Certificate obtained from a veterinarian showing that your dog has a current rabies vacination.
Bristol Fire and Rescue
Chief Leeman reports that, thankfully, the fall has been a quieter time for BF&R, with one structure fire and an average of six callouts per week for the First Responders. The training burn of the old Pemaquid Beach Pavilion was a great success, with 25 firefighters from neighboring towns joining 25 Bristol volunteer firemen and women in the exercise which was praised by the State Fire Marshal’s office as a textbook case of well-prepared and well-executed training.
If you have not yet ordered a blue reflective street number sign for your house, please fill out an order form at the Town Office. There is no charge for this service, though donations to the Samoset Fire Company are welcome. Seconds save lives!
Bristol Selectmen and the Town Office staff – Town Clerk Rachel Bizarro, Assessing Clerk Jessica Westhaver, Code Enforcement Officer Joe Rose, Deputy Treasurer Lindsay Currier, and myself, Chris Hall – join with the staff of the Bristol Fire & Rescue and the Parks and Recreation Department in sending you good wishes for a joyful holiday season and a safe and prosperous New Year!
For more information on any of the matters touched on in this report, please email Chris Hall at [email protected]. Thank you for reading!