John Paul Jones Park in Kittery is among the first things visitors see when entering the state over the Memorial Bridge. The town hopes it can take control of the park from the state government. Credit: Deb Cram | Portsmouth Herald

KITTERY, Maine — A process long-delayed by the former governor’s refusal to sign the deed transfer, the Town Council this week authorized the development of agreements to place John Paul Jones Park under the town’s oversight.

The park just over Memorial Bridge paying tribute to a naval hero has sat in limbo since 2015, as all obstacles to transfer the property deed from the state to Kittery had been met, but then Gov. Paul LePage would not sign off on it. With new Gov. Janet Mills on board, town councilors wondered Monday if the transfer may take place fairly quickly this time.

Councilors discussed the perks of having jurisdiction over the first piece of land motorists see when entering Kittery from Memorial Bridge, versus the responsibility of the town and its taxpayers in doing so.

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“I am just troubled what we’re gaining by taking this over,” said Councilor Charles Denault. “What benefit does it give the taxpayers in this town, a park that we never had to maintain before but now we have to maintain?”

Denault raised issue with the recent refurbishment of the park’s monument by the state for an estimated $13,000. If any refurbishment comes up again, he said, he was concerned the cost would fall on the taxpayers.

Chairwoman Judy Spiller said when she was first elected to the Town Council years ago, the town did maintain much of the park, per an agreement with the state that has since expired. “It is the gateway to Kittery, it is public space,” Spiller said. “Robust healthy communities have lots of public space. We don’t have that much public space. That’s my shtick.”

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Councilor Jeffrey Thomson argued the town has been involved with maintaining and cleaning the park over the years, including volunteer work by local landscaping firms. “It’s not like we’re taking on something we haven’t been involved with,” he said.

Councilor Ken Lemont said under Mills’ administration, he thought the process would go “very smoothly” this time. He asked with a laugh if the state could pay for the painting of the park’s flagpole ahead of the deed transfer.

The council voted 7-0 to authorize Town Manager Kendra Amaral to work with the state to develop deed and transfer agreements for further review by the council.