June vote likely on Bangor arena, dispatch plans

Posted Jan. 27, 2011, at 11:05 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 28, 2011, at 11:18 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A pair of petitions seeking to overturn recent Bangor City Council decisions have both been certified, paving the way for citywide referendums later this year.

Dianne Lovejoy, Bangor’s deputy city clerk, said Thursday that enough signatures have been validated to force a vote on whether to authorize construction of a new arena and convention center at Bass Park.

Petitioners Bob Cimbollek, Ken Wicks and Steve Sleeper turned in more than 2,600 signatures on Jan. 15, about 15 percent more than the 2,236 needed.

Additionally, Bangor dispatcher Jim Morrill has turned in enough additional signatures to allow voters to decide whether the city should continue operating its own emergency and nonemergency dispatch center or consolidate with Penobscot County as planned. Morrill turned in his signatures on Jan. 4, but many of them were invalid. Per city charter, he was given additional time and Lovejoy said Morrill met the 2,236-signature threshold this week.

City councilors are required to schedule public hearings on both referendums in the coming weeks and then must schedule a date for the referendum votes. Although there has been some debate, most councilors have said June is the most likely month for the votes.

“I think we need to vote on the arena more rapidly because we don’t want to fall off the timetable,” Councilor Rick Bronson said, referring to the council’s plans to construct a $65 million arena and convention center complex. “Regarding dispatch, it depends a bit on how we structure our next budget, but there is not as much urgency there.”

Councilors have said repeatedly that they respect the petition process. Asked whether the two citizen-led referendums are a testament to democracy in action or an indictment of recent City Council decisions, Bronson said some municipal decisions are more emotional than others.

“At some point, we can’t do everything by town meeting,” he said. “Some of the things we’re deciding are more complicated than most voters care to understand. They can understand them, but they don’t always take the time and that’s easy for any human to do.”

Bronson said the council’s job over the next several weeks is to educate the public on why it wants to consolidate police and fire dispatch and why it wants to reinvest in the community by building a new arena complex.

On dispatch, councilors voted last fall to begin the process of consolidating with the Penobscot Regional Communications Center, which is funded by Penobscot County. They cited cost savings and a commitment to regionalization as the main reasons for voting to consolidate.

Morrill, a Bangor dispatcher, and others believe that services would be diminished if the city consolidates with Penobscot County.

On the arena, councilors have been proceeding slowly but steadily over the last couple of years. Although the city has hosted numerous public hearings and has made many changes to the project over the last several months, opponents have maintained that its cost is prohibitive.

“It’s not a matter that we’ve failed to give information. It’s everywhere,” Bronson said, adding that the opponents have been making public false information about how the project would be funded.

City councilors are confident that the proposed 5,800 fixed-seat arena — with a maximum seating capacity of 8,050 for certain events — and an adjacent convention center can be built without taxpayer money.

The city has designated its share of Hollywood Slots proceeds to pay for the project and also is committed to using a portion of Bangor’s downtown tax increment financing district funds. A friends group of local business and civic leaders also has formed to solicit private-sector donations once the project officially gets a green light.

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