June 23, 2021

Local-option plan

Bangor city officials for the last three years have gone about the process of finding a solution to an inadequate auditorium and civic center in a thoughtful and deliberate way, including the public at each step. The council, city manager and the regional committees undertaking this project deserve credit for trying to build regional support and setting real deadlines to take action, rather than talk the issue to death. But behind every description of gleaming new facilities and along with every description of ways to attract people to the area through such a facility was the unanswered question of how such a project would be funded.

The Bangor City Council tonight is expected to answer that question. It is scheduled to consider a resolve to raise money through a targeted local option sales tax that is unlike most that have been proposed before it and should be supported by the Legislature. It represents part of an encouraging trend of the region taking action to ensure its own future.

The shortcomings of the half-century-old auditorium – inadequate seating, difficulty moving around, etc. – are apparent to anyone who has attended concerts there. The civic center, though newer, is in many ways worse because it cannot hold large gatherings, lacks break-out rooms and displays at atmosphere depressing enough to make even motivational speakers flee in terror. Since 1998, the city, with lots of help from its neighbors, has tried to find an alternative that could better serve traditional needs, attract new business and become integral to the planned growth along the waterfront. A final plan hasn’t been picked yet, but the probable price of $20 million to $30 million has been on everyone’s mind.

Proposals for local-option sales have been rejected so often in the Legislature that killing them in committee is nearly a winter ritual in Augusta. This time, however, may be different, and not only because for the first time Gov. Angus King says he understands the need for the option and is interested in this latest plan. Service center communities and state officials have come up with a plan that raises money only for specific projects, can last no longer that five years and must be approved by voters. The projects must be a regional resource, such as a convention center or industrial park, a regional school or affordable housing or meet a utility or transportation demand. The tax can be no more than 1 percent.

A committee at the Maine Municipal Association and the Maine Service Centers Coalition already has supported the proposal. Resolves from Bangor and any other city interested in seeing this region develop economically would tell the Legislature that this local-option-sales plan is an important part of the region’s strategy for growth. The council tonight should support it and urge other councils to back it as well.

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