Bangor loan decision a bad idea

By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN
Posted Sept. 24, 2010, at 8:35 p.m.

Saying no comes harder to some than others. It’s why some of us make better worker bees than queen bees, why the “bad cop, good cop” methodology works so well and why parents eventually learn which one in the pair is best suited for the most serious moments of discipline.

An inability to say no, to play tough, to call in the cards when necessary should perhaps be considered when one is choosing a career path.

It also should be considered if you find yourself in the business of lending money.

If you are not prepared to insist it be paid back or if you don’t have the tools in place to respond if it is not paid back, then maybe money lending isn’t the business you should be in.

It’s exactly why I’m not a banker.

If I lent people money, I’d be out of business very, very fast.

I’d find it uncomfortable to ask for it back. I’d give everyone all kinds of chances and I’d fall for teary pleas each and every single time.

So I can certainly sympathize with the city councilors who shifted their feet uncomfortably and avoided eye contact with the crying woman who sat before them at the Bangor City Council’s finance committee meeting earlier this week.

Jennifer Brown was before the committee to try to explain why she wasn’t making payments on the low-interest $70,000 loan agreement that she and the city had entered into five years ago.

Brown and her husband received the loan through the city’s Economic and Community Development Department.

The loans are funded via federal Housing and Urban Development grants, administered through the city and commonly made to low- and moderate-income residents for the purpose of improving the safety of their homes, fixing code violations and improving energy efficiency.

Brown and her husband entered into the agreement in 2005 and also received two additional, smaller loans from the city. Payments were sporadic from 2005 to 2007, according to information at the committee meeting. The last payment was made three years ago in 2007.

Since then the Browns have also failed to pay their property taxes and have made no sewer payments.

All told, the couple is into the city for about $110,000, according to press reports.

Phone calls from city staff to the Browns reportedly went unanswered and certified letters sent by the city were ignored, city staff stated at the meeting.

City Finance Director Debbie Cyr recommended that the committee vote to either begin foreclosure procedures or take possession of the home.

“We don’t want to be in the business of kicking people out of their homes, but we can’t be a parent to anyone, either,” she told a reporter.

Councilor and committee member Cary Weston made a motion to begin repossession action.

The motion failed.

Jennifer Brown cried. Councilors shifted their feet and stumbled uncomfortably, unsure just what to do.

They asked if there were kids who lived in the home.

Yes, Jennifer Brown replied.

In the end, the committee opted for the all-too-familiar escape hatch.

They tabled it.

Maybe this financial train wreck, five years in the making, can be miraculously fixed by next month’s committee meeting.

The Brown family gets to stay in their home for one more month and committee members get one more month before perhaps having to kick a family out onto the street.

There’s a lot to be disturbed about.

Apparently the city has been very fortunate in the past 20 years or so that it has been providing these loans to city residents and very, very few have been defaulted on.

However, since many of those loans are made to people already on the financial fringe of society, the city should have been prepared to act judiciously and responsibly to all parties — the homeowners and the taxpayers — in cases where the homeowner was unable to pay.

That the Browns have gone three years piling on more and more debt to the city is not fair to them or the taxpayers.

Someone should have said no long ago and spared a lot of people a lot of expense and spared Jennifer Brown the humiliation she endured at the committee meeting.

If the city is going to be in the business of lending money, then it better be prepared to act when loan agreements fail.

Someone should be ready to say no. To be the queen bee. The bad cop. The strict parent.

The sad, pathetic spectacle that occurred in front of the city this week should not happen again.

E-mail Renee at reneeordway@gmail.com and listen to her and co-host Dan Frazell from 7 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday on the radio at 103.1 The Pulse.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/09/24/living/bangor-loan-decision-a-bad-idea/ printed on December 25, 2014