June 25, 2018
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Bangor needs to expand its economic reach

By Ken Huhn, Special to the BDN

Recently, Ben Sprague wrote a well thought out article ( BDN, June 30) about the city’s fiscal policies in regard to the use of debt, cash reserves and investments.

The bottom line was that the current fiscal policies were hurting Bangor’s ability to financially keep up with its needs. I would like to take those suggestions a little further and suggest that it is in Bangor’s best interest, and, that of its neighbors, to reach out beyond its borders and its traditional scope of business to be able to effectively manage its future finances.

Bangor is a regional service center. In that respect, business development in and around Bangor will affect the financial health of every community in the region. For that reason Bangor needs to have a business division that can reach out regionally to protect its, and the region’s, financial interest. Just as the new arena and conference center will be an economic stimulus to the entire region, so will other projects and Bangor needs to aggressively engage the other communities of interest.

Matt Wickenheiser of the BDN wrote an article (June 24) about a Maine Maritime Academy report discussing the importance of a “Searsport to Bangor logistics corridor networking rail, boat, road and air” (Bangor International Airport).

This type of development needs to have Bangor engaging all parties involved with the development of Sears Island, the upgrade of rail infrastructure and the issuance of bonds as it affects the conditions of involved roads. How does this project get going when the condition of the local rail allows for frequent derailments and dumping cargo into the Penobscot. Bangor has an interest in those rails being improved and of the appropriate bonds either being passed or released for use. We need to engage the proper private and public officials to make the needed improvements and form partnerships.

Twenty years ago there were hundreds of moorings for boats in the river by Bangor. Now we’re told that they aren’t there anymore because the Army Corps of Engineers has stopped their placement. Bangor has a financially vested interest in those moorings and they should use all of their considerable weight with the Army Corps and our federal officials to remedy that situation.

We recently had an increase in property taxes that could have been much worse. The governor attempted to balance his budget on the backs of Bangor taxpayers by reducing the amount that the state pays local communities for general assistance.

In Bangor that would have been over a million dollar cut. Thankfully, Mayor Cary Weston reached out to other mayors and formed a coalition that was able to significantly lessen the cut.

Bangor constitutionally has to give general assistance to anyone who appears and can show need regardless of where they live. Bangor needs to engage the right people and other service centers in changing this to a requirement that forces recipients to seek general assistance from their own communities, or constitutionally regionalize a revenue stream to match the applicant’s place of residence.

We have a vocal minority in town that tried its hardest to stop the development of the new arena. What was their fear? Increased property taxes. The recent city budget was passed requiring an increase in property tax. One city councilor voted against the budget because he had promised his constituents that he wouldn’t vote for a tax increase. Bravo for him, a politician that keeps his word. My position is that everything will continue to get more expensive. If healthy, controlled growth doesn’t occur then property taxes have to go up or city services and our award-winning school system will suffer. If that vocal minority is shown that the city is capable of addressing additional revenues, they may be won over.

So, I believe in Ben Sprague’s suggestions for prudent internal fiscal changes. On top of that we need a change in how we interact with others. Let’s be proactive and act like a regional service center. The entire region will benefit from it.

Ken Huhn is a Bangor resident and a past chairman of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce.

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