June 02, 2020
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State isn’t doing its part to help Bangor grow economy

Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kevin Bennett | BDN
Ben Sprague.

Between the construction of the Cross Insurance Center, development of the waterfront, economic and cultural growth in our downtown area, and continued expansion on Broadway and in the Bangor Mall area, no community in the state has been more business-friendly than Bangor in the last decade.

Instead of “business-friendly” road signs and other gimmicks, what the city of Bangor really needs in order to continue our economic growth and provide jobs for people throughout the region is to have a partnership with the state through municipal revenue sharing.

Bangor generates $1.2 billion in taxable sales each year. According to state statute, approximately $5 million of the tax revenue from these sales is meant to stay in Bangor annually.

There is a purpose to revenue sharing: It is money meant to limit the tax burden on city property owners. Bangor has used this money for vital and necessary infrastructure projects and to assure that our increasingly stretched police, fire, and EMS personnel have the resources they need to do their jobs. Plus, we have used municipal revenue sharing funds for exactly the types of projects and services that promote economic development.

Augusta this year has cut our portion of revenue sharing to just over $2 million despite statutory requirements — and there is a chance more cuts are coming next year.

The truth of the matter is that Bangor has pipes and sewers that were constructed and have been in use since the 1850s. We have streets that were designed for horses and buggies.

In order to transform our community into a 21st century center of business and commerce it will take innovation, fresh thinking and, unfortunately, money. The property taxes from business development contribute a part of this, and we are certainly grateful for them, but they come nowhere close to covering the true costs of development.

Passing the burdens to residential property tax payers is not only unfair, but doing so pulls money from the taxpayer’s pocket that would flow through the economy much better if it could be spent at the very businesses we are working to attract and retain.

There is a misconception that municipal budgets around the state are full of wasteful spending and foolish projects. The city of Bangor has tightened its belt in recent years with cuts to services, privatization of some city programs and loss of personnel through layoffs and attrition. We believe in finding efficiencies and we would never advocate for carrying a program or personnel that are not serving a purpose, but we also know that we cannot cut our way to a more prosperous future.

That is why despite the challenges, Bangor has continued to invest in itself. With interest rates at historically low levels, we ramped up our paving program for city streets and sidewalks. We have coordinated with utility companies to expand natural gas services to residents and businesses alike with significant more work coming in the years ahead. We have offered facade grant programs to help our downtown business owners improve the appearance, efficiency and safety of their buildings. We have initiated traffic studies on Main Street, Broadway and Stillwater Avenue to comply with cumbersome state and federal transportation guidelines as we attempt to make our streets safer and more convenient for residential neighbors, commuters and the patrons of the very businesses we seek to assist.

Given the economic challenges our state faces and the success that Bangor has had in recent years, preserving revenue sharing is the best investment our Legislature and governor could make. What we have experienced, however, is that Augusta has passed one burden after another down to us while increasing mandates, undermining local control, and slashing the revenue necessary for continued economic growth. A road sign from the state saying that Bangor is “business friendly” would be accurate, but it would give the mistaken impression that the state of Maine has somehow been a partner in this success.

Ben Sprague is chairman of the Bangor City Council.

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