November 16, 2012

Norridgewock Planning Board's price cut for hospital worries town leaders

Ordinances don't give board power to reduce permitting fees, says town manager

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

NORRIDGEWOCK -- A decision by the Planning Board to lower application fees for a construction project by Redington-Fairview General Hospital has some town officials worried about possible legal challenges from other applicants.

The board decided last month to not charge the hospital $12,475 in fees for the project on Mercer Road in order to be friendly to business, according to code enforcement officer Frank Tracey.

According to the town ordinance, commercial construction projects are subject to application fees based on the value of the project, with projects under $500,000 charged a 1 percent fee and projects more than $500,000 being charged a 2.5 percent rate.

The hospital was initially assessed with a $5,000 application fee for a project costing $499,000.

Later, when the hospital submitted final documents showing the cost of construction to be $699,005, the additional fees were not charged.

"We were actually doing what the site plan review ordinance had given us the authority to do, and that is decide to not charge more for that fee," said acting Planning Board Chairwoman Charlotte Curtis. She is also a selectwoman.

Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said that although some of the wording in the ordinance is not clear, "I'm not aware of anything in the ordinance that gives the planning board flexibility with fees."

Curtis said, "We based the application fee on the initial estimate and the reason for that was that these people were fully prepared and had all their documentation in order when they came to us. The board felt this would be a wonderful addition to our community."

The hospital bought the land late last year and was approved for construction by the planning board on Jan. 9. The hospital has since renovated the building on the site and put in medical offices, which opened on Nov. 5.

Even though the hospital is a nonprofit organization, Flewelling said it is still subject to permit fees, even if it later applies for a tax exemption from property taxes.

"There is the concern that if nothing is done there is potential for litigation from other business applicants who have had to pay fees," said Flewelling.

Selectmen will discuss the decision at a meeting Tuesday. The Board of Appeals has the power to reverse a Planning Board decision if it is brought forward by almost anyone in the town, including past, present or future applicants, the town manager, code enforcement officer, a selectmen or the board of selectmen, according to town ordinance.

Curtis was town treasurer last year and was questioned after it was found she purposely did not record a lien on some unpaid sewer accounts over the last few years. She said she gave the homeowners a break because she didn't want someone to lose a home because of a sewer bill.

Curtis was elected to the selectboard earlier this year after leaving the treasurer post.

She also lost her job as a full-time town office clerk earlier this year for allegedly recording transactions with hidden audio equipment at the front desk of the town office.

Rachel Ohm -- 612-2368
rohm@mainetoday.com

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