Building Projects Don’t Fare Well In Voting

(from Maine Townsman, November 2007)
By Liz Chapman

A majority of municipal voters kept their wallets in their pockets on November 6 as they trounced several bonding requests for building projects.

The towns of Lisbon and Winthrop were handed repeat defeats at the polls this month. For the second time in two years, Lisbon voters overwhelmingly rejected building a new public works garage. And for the second time this year, Winthrop voters rejected a proposal to build a new public safety building.

Lisbon officials must still fix the air quality and accessibility issues, they said, although the existing garage also has been deemed too small for the department’s modern equipment and machinery and inefficient to heat.

Last November, Lisbon voters rejected a $1.75 million proposal by a vote of 1,999 to 1,281. Although the price tag had dropped to $1.35 million this November, and the vote was far closer, opponents still prevailed on a 960-668 vote.

According to the town engineer, the town must still bring the garage up to safety standards for handicap accessibility as well as installing a ventilation system to protect the public works staff.

In Winthrop, residents voted 2-to-1 against a scaled down version of the town’s proposed new public safety building, which would have housed the police, fire and ambulance departments at an estimated cost of $2.8 million.

The vote was 1,384-623 against the plan, compared to the 836-646 vote last February against a more expensive version at the same proposed site on U.S. Route 202.

The town is trying to resolve multiple building problems at two public safety facilities downtown. A 30-member citizen committee was formed over the summer to develop a more appealing plan, but voters were even more vigorously opposed.

One town councilor predicted the council would now move forward on repairing and renovating the downtown buildings.

People have said, “Keep things downtown and renovate,” Kevin Cookson, a committee member and councilor, told the Kennebec Journal after the vote.

In Augusta, voters defeated a proposal to borrow almost $7 million to renovate and expand the Lithgow Public Library by a margin of 2,153-1,915. The plan called for library supporters to raise an additional $2 million for the work, for a total project of nearly $9 million.

The library is not handicap accessible and is so small for present needs that staff must turn away children from library events and programs, supporters said.

First-year Mayor Roger Katz was opposed to project for cost reasons, but pledged to work with library supporters on a smaller renovation project that would rely more on private funding.

One of the largest school construction project proposals in Maine history was defeated overwhelmingly by South Portland voters.

The $56 million construction project to tear down, rebuild and expand South Portland High School appeared to be too much for the city’s property taxpayers to accept.  The vote tally was 4,724 to 1,561 against the project.

Had it been approved,  funding the project would have raised property taxes on the average homeowner by about $300 per year with a total cost (on that taxpayer) of about $5,100 over lifetime of the bonding.  There was no state funding for the project.

Supporters of the project said that the high school is in dire need of improvements and has code violations that need correcting.