The first floor of Bangor City Hall could look pretty different in the coming years if local voters pass a referendum next month authorizing the city to borrow up to $6 million.
Besides choosing candidates for open seats on the Bangor City Council and School Committee, residents will also vote on the funding for a proposed renovation of City Hall’s interior estimated to cost almost $6 million. The project would alter where residents pay their taxes, register their cars and access other services on the building’s first floor, while also replacing its heating and ventilation system and making other improvements to better serve people with disabilities.
The election is Nov. 5. Residents can also vote early by completing an absentee ballot at City Hall before Oct. 31.
If voters authorize the project, the city could issue up to $6 million in bonds to pay for it. That would be on top of the city’s $127 million in outstanding debt, according to information on this fall’s ballot.
The city now spends about $4.4 million a year — 7.6 percent of local property tax income — repaying outstanding debts, according to Bangor Finance Director Debbie Cyr.
That rate could go up if the city borrows another $6 million, but Cyr was not immediately able to calculate by how much since the rate depends on other debts and repayments. She said the owner of a home worth $150,000 — the median value in Bangor — could pay an estimated $22.50 in new property taxes each year if the bond is passed.
The majority of the city’s debts, 60 percent, are not repaid with local taxes. That debt is the result of projects at the city’s wastewater treatment plant and airport, both of which have other funding sources, according to Cyr.
Officials have said that the proposed renovations should cut the building’s operating costs by improving the energy efficiency of City Hall. The city now pays about $83,000 annually to heat and power the building.
The changes could also reduce the cost of providing services to residents and extend the hours of those services.
The city has not yet done any serious planning or design for the renovation, including an analysis of what savings it could bring, because officials did not want to spend heavily before seeking voter approval, according to Cyr. If voters do approve the bond, Cyr said, the city will seek input from residents, employees and others about how to proceed with it.
Almost half of the renovation’s costs would come from the proposed changes on the first floor. Now, residents who want to pay their taxes, register a dog, seek building permits, receive an absentee ballot and seek other services must visit several different offices scattered around the 14,400-square-foot lobby.
The renovation would consolidate those services into a single office and counter space directly in front of the building’s front doors facing Harlow Street, replacing a stretch of wall that’s now covered by three large paintings showing the region’s development. The city would train staff on providing the full spectrum of services in the “one-stop shop.”
The project, which would take several years to complete, would also replace the building’s elevator with one large enough for motorized wheelchairs and make its bathrooms and customer service counters compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
First built in 1915, the building was a federal courthouse and post office before becoming City Hall in 1969. Since undergoing its last major interior renovation in the mid-1970s, the demand for city services has climbed. For example, Bangor registered just over 17,000 vehicles in 1965, but now registers about 24,000 vehicles annually, according to Cyr.
Bangor has also recently been carrying out two other projects to renovate City Hall’s windows and front entrance.