OLD TOWN, Maien — At the regular meeting of the Old Town City Council on Monday night, members voted against proceeding with plans for a new or refurbished City Hall.
The issue has been on the table for at least 12 years and recently gained some momentum due to the availability of nontax revenues paid to the city from the Juniper Ridge landfill. Recent discussions have explored a variety of options, including building a new City Hall near the public library, renovating the city-owned Earland Sleight building across from the former Georgia-Pacific paper mill, and purchasing and renovating the privately owned Marsh Island Carry building on the downtown riverfront. Of the three options, renovation of the Earland Sleight building appeared to be gaining favor.
Monday’s vote against authorizing City Manager Peggy Daigle to negotiate with bidders on the Earland Sleight renovation, however, effectively moves resolution of the issue into the indefinite future.
In their discussion preceding the 4-3 vote, council members aired strongly opposing viewpoints.
Council Chairman David Mahan said he supported moving forward with a $1.6 million plan to renovate the Earland Sleight building, which the city owns. He sought and obtained reassurance from Daigle that the landfill funds would be more appropriately used for one-time expenditures, such as the City Hall project, than for taxpayer relief for predictable operational expenses.
Councilor Alan Stormann agreed that renovating the city-owned property was the right thing to do.
“We’ve been beating this thing to death for 12 years,” he said. “It’s time to do something.”
Councilor Carol May disagreed, saying it would be “irresponsible” to make such a significant financial commitment when several major businesses, including the former mill and the Old Town Canoe company, are experiencing instability related to the national economic crisis.
Councilor Jamie Dufour said the area can expect “a tremendous upturn in unemployment” in January. “We owe it to the taxpayers to wait and see how this shakes out,” he said.
Public comment was likewise divided. Stan Peterson of Fourth Street urged the council to put the project on hold and reconsider using the downtown Marsh Island Carry building rather than locating the new City Hall across from the paper mill at the edge of town. Edward Spencer of Kirkland Road argued that funds received from the landfill should be used to offset its negative impacts on the community.
Former council member Linda McLeod urged the council to move forward with the City Hall project.
“It always seems like the wrong time, … but it’s going to cost more the longer we wait,” she said. “If we had acted 10 years ago, the building would be paid for now.”
After the vote, Daigle said she had no further options to offer. “I’ve expended as much energy on this as I can,” she said. “This is not a city hall for me; I’ve got maybe four years left in this position. It’s a city hall for the city.”
For the past four years, Daigle and the rest of the city’s administrative staff have been housed in rented space in the Bangor Savings Bank building on Main Street.