MILLINOCKET – The Town Council opted last April to add a question to the Election Day ballot to let voters decide whether the Millinocket Area Growth and Investment Council would get $60,000 from the town for the year.
Councilors agreed to appropriate $30,000 to the quasi-public economic development agency and expressed some hope that the nonbinding referendum would, by deciding whether MAGIC should get another $30,000, end the thorny political battle over the entity that has lingered since at least 2004.
But it hasn’t.
Not even close.
As of Tuesday, the day after the council accepted the 1,153 to 1,014 election vote in a stormy meeting, at least two residents groups were forming: one to privately raise $30,000 the vote denied MAGIC, and another to create a committee that would work to develop the town’s economy – in effect to complement, if not replace, MAGIC.
And the people on both sides, all players in past battles over MAGIC, seemed as set as they ever were on winning the war.
Kathy Gagnon and Town Councilor David Cyr are working to form the business committee, Gagnon said. Both are occasional columnists for the Magic City Morning Star Web site (magic-city-news.com) that Town Councilor Matthew Polstein blasted during Monday’s meeting as the center of a smear campaign directed at him, MAGIC, and his businesses.
He claimed the Web site is poisonous to the town’s business environment. Gagnon disagreed.
“We’re just trying to get the town back on its feet, one way or the other,” Gagnon said Tuesday. “We don’t see anything happening with MAGIC. I would hate to see the town keep losing ground here. All the other towns around us are revitalized or growing, and Millinocket is not growing.”
Gagnon’s group, which has yet to give itself a name, was looking to meet Tuesday night to start organizing itself. She asked anyone interested in joining the group to e-mail her at Mainekat@hotmail.com.
“My understanding of what they’re doing is that it would be more in line with what the Chamber [of Commerce] should be doing – promoting Millinocket,” said Kenneth Anderson, owner of MCMS and a MAGIC critic.
“Nothing’s really set yet as far as who will be in it,” Gagnon said.
One group, led by Katahdin Press reporter Lisa Pelkey, was due to meet Tuesday to start trying to raise $30,000 from residents. Pelkey said late Monday that the group was exploring whether 1,000 people would be willing to donate $20 or $30. With 1,014 voters approving the MAGIC funding, that should be feasible, Pelkey said.
She did not return messages left Tuesday.
Polstein said another group of people has approached him because they want “to write big checks” – in the neighborhood of $1,000 each.
MAGIC has claimed to have created 197 new jobs in its client communities, Millinocket, East Millinocket and Medway, helping launch or grow businesses such as Michael J. Brown Cabinet Makers, Porter’s Woodworking, Clean Wood Heat, and the Center for Classic Aircraft Skills. It has received $742,000 over five years from its towns and three local businesses and raised $2.5 million in grants and small business loans.
Medway town officials are also discussing contributing more to MAGIC, Polstein said.
“There are a multitude of interested groups who feel an injustice was done in that vote and want to correct it … and who see great value coming from MAGIC,” Polstein said Tuesday. “I told them that we need to give a little time to see what gels.”
Anderson sees it differently. Brims Ness, Allagash Valve, and Ad Time are businesses that are defunct, having failed to grow despite MAGIC’s help. Other businesses, they said, have failed to be lured into this area despite MAGIC efforts.
The vote, Anderson said, “says that people have lost faith and confidence in MAGIC as an economic development organization.”
The war continues.