Media Archive

Legislative authority to bond sought by county

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 165, No. 14, April 02, 2003

By Ben Bragdon
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA Recent roundhouses of bad business news have sent Piscataquis County towns searching for answers in the realm of economic development, but efforts by individual communities have been found to lack the necessary size and scope to bring new businesses to the area.

In an effort to bring these communities together for the common good, Sen. Paul Davis (R-Piscataquis County) has, at the behest of local officials, submitted a bill that aims to give the county a "more effective tool for encouraging development on a regional level.

The bill, LD 1357, would give the county the authority to raise, borrow, and spend money for such things as the development of new commercial or industrial sites, or as the local match portion of state and federal grants. Any bonds issued by the county through action by the county commissioners would first have to be approved by a countywide referendum.

The legislation, say local town and county officials, would allow the county to do collectively what any regional municipality would have trouble doing individually.

"We are all at a loss, with our small size, when we try to compete with the larger communities in Maine," said Piscataquis County Economic Development Council (PCEDC) Executive Director Mark Scarano. "Together we can pool our resources- our scarce resources- and put forth competitive economic development projects to encourage job growth here in Piscataquis County."

An initial attempt at regional development stalled last year after difficulties arose around how to best share the financial responsibilities for the project among the county's towns. The Piscataquis Properties Corporation, a coalition of local town officials and economic developers, had hoped to finance the construction of three speculative buildings for the purposes of attracting new businesses. But when it came time for towns to individually authorize the funds, many could not find a way to fit it into their budgets.

That experience led the interested parties to pursue new avenues for funding regional projects, said county commissioner and PCEDC board member Eben Dewitt. After finding that there were not any laws to either allow or prohibit the county from issuing bonds, officials approached Sen. Davis to draft a bill that would clarify the conditions for issuing such bonds, said Dewitt.

Davis, the Maine Senate Minority Leader from Sangerville, -made one change to the bill, raising the number of total votes needed to conduct a referendum. The bill allows a referendum where the total number of votes cast equals at least 50 percent of the votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election. The bill originally put that threshold at 40 percent.

Davis said the higher number means more citizen input will be needed to approve a bond issue, and ensures that a good portion of the general public will have to be present at any referendum regardless of when it is held.

"If (county officials are) going to have an election other than in a primary, general statewide election or a November election, then they are going to have to work hard to pass their issue," said Davis. "And if its a worthy issue then its worth working for."

Scarano said the bill recognizes special relationship between the small, rural communities that make up Piscataquis County.

"It is a realization that we live in an economy that is truly regional," he said. "A job created in one municipality is good for all county municipalities."

Milo Town Manager Jane Jones agrees, saying that the region's unique position calls for a creative course toward funding regional projects.

"We need a much broader approach, and it has to be countywide," said Jones. "(The bill) provides the tools we are going to need to do countywide economic development."

LD 1357 is currently being reviewed by the State and Local Government committee in the state legislature. A public hearing is scheduled in April. If it is passed by the legislature, the bill would go into effect immediately following approval.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.