BANGOR, Maine — City councilors will hold a public hearing Monday, Feb. 28, to discuss scheduling dates for two hot-button referendum votes.
Separate petitioners have gathered enough signatures to force citywide votes on whether to build a new arena and convention center and whether to consolidate Bangor’s dispatch services with Penobscot County.
The City Council is leaning toward May 4 for a vote on the arena project, in large part because it doesn’t want to lose the guaranteed maximum price outlined by construction manager Cianbro Corp.
Councilors said they are more flexible on the dispatch vote. Some think June would be most appropriate while others said they are more comfortable waiting until the general election in November when turnout would be greater.
Members of the public will be allowed to weigh in on the process on Feb. 28, but council Chairwoman Susan Hawes said the decision on which dates to pick rests with the council.
“I don’t think we’re going to hear a lot of new things because these are both topics that have been well covered,” Hawes said Monday. “But, I think the council wants to be as fair as possible.”
On both the arena and dispatch, Bangor voters can expect to be flooded with information and even some misinformation from both sides before the referendum votes.
Although the council has debated the idea of a new arena for a decade, critics have grown increasingly frustrated with the council’s actions moving forward with the largest construction project in the city’s history.
Later this week, councilors are scheduled to meet with architect Don Dethlefs on the latest draft of the $65 million project’s design. The city already has spent more than $2 million on design and pre-construction costs. That money has come out of Bangor’s proceeds from Hollywood Slots, a pool of funds that grows each month and now sits at about $8 million.
City staff have said that current and projected Hollywood Slots proceeds, combined with a portion of the downtown tax increment financing funds, would pay the project’s costs over the next 30 years.
Opponents, however, don’t trust those numbers and are convinced that taxpayers will end up subsidizing the cost of the arena if Hollywood Slots fails to generate consistent revenue in the future.
The dispatch referendum may not bring out as many strong emotions among voters, but consolidation has been a topic of conversation in Bangor for about 15 years. Bangor dispatcher James Morrill, the lead petitioner, said the council has been too presumptuous in its decision to combine with the Penobscot Regional Communi-cations Center.
Referendum votes have a lengthy history in Bangor, including in recent years. Voters overturned council decisions in 2006 and 2008, the first on where to build a new police station and the second on banning left-hand turns from State Street onto Howard Street.