Bangor council votes to rejoin municipal association in hopes of restoring revenue sharing

Posted Jan. 27, 2014, at 10:06 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor will pay $10,000 to rejoin the Maine Municipal Association for the remainder of the fiscal year in hopes the organization can help restore municipal revenue sharing, the City Council decided during a contentious Monday night meeting.

Bangor was a member of the coalition — which includes all but a handful of Maine’s 492 municipalities — until 2011, when it decided to sever ties with the organization.

City officials at the time were paying MMA about $30,000 per year in dues and didn’t feel they were getting their money’s worth. They also felt MMA’s efforts focused on supporting smaller communities, and those interests sometimes conflicted with Bangor’s.

Less than three years later, the separation is coming to an end — at least until the summer.

Councilor Nelson Durgin said the withdrawal from MMA was a “tactical move” because Bangor didn’t feel it was being heard. Now, he said, Bangor and MMA are on the same side on several issues, such as revenue sharing and limiting the expansion of gambling in Maine.

Bangor City Manager Cathy Conlow estimated that city staff members have spent well over 100 hours in the past three weeks alone tracking legislation, meeting with delegates, writing testimony and attending hearings. It’s too much for staff members who are busy with their regular full-time jobs with the city, she has said.

Council Chairman Ben Sprague has been among the most active, traveling to Augusta, calling legislators and more. He said he’s concerned that isn’t enough.

MMA is planning a campaign to push the agenda of restored revenue sharing, and Bangor should be a part of that, he said. That push will be vital, Councilor David Nealley said, because the two-thirds of legislators need to approve the plan in order to prevent a veto.

If the plan isn’t approved or is vetoed, Bangor stands to lose another $1 million in the next budget cycle, according to Nealley.

Not everyone was onboard with the reunion.

Councilor Patricia Blanchette said this was a “knee-jerk reaction” and that the city shouldn’t give MMA $10,000 to help fight a battle that it’s already fighting on behalf of other communities.

Blanchette spent eight years as a legislator and argued that paid lobbyists aren’t effective because legislators “tune them out.”

Councilor Gibran Graham argued that while MMA pushing for some of the same things as Bangor, the city shouldn’t ride on MMA’s coattails for free and should pitch in financially to help the effort it hopes to benefit from. Doing that would be “no better than the state withholding revenue sharing,” he said

The vote was 6-3 in favor of rejoining MMA.

The council will still have to debate during the budget process for the next fiscal year whether they want to stay with MMA and pay dues for a full year.

In other business on Monday night, the council:

• Approved a $1 lease that will allow the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame to set up shop in the Cross Insurance Center Concourse. The hall of fame plans to have a portion of the museum set up for tournament time this year. Future phases of the project will include video displays and computers that will allow people to pull up past tournament highlights and information.

• Approved a $100,000 business loan that will allow Maine Paper and Janitorial Supply to expand its Rice Street property. The company sought the loan through the city’s Community Development Business Development Loan Program to finance the expansion and improve its facility. The janitorial supplies company plans to create 10 full-time positions by the end of the three-year loan.

• Accepted a $2,000 donation from an anonymous Maine Troop Greeter to purchase and install a water bottle filling station at Bangor International Airport for use by troops in a passenger waiting area on the second floor of the domestic terminal.

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