Editorial: Where we stand on local issues
There are several local ballot questions facing voters this year in cities and towns covered by The Forecaster. Here's where we stand on the issues:
Portland's current council-manager government functions well enough on the administrative level, but it is sorely lacking when it comes to providing the city with vision and leadership. A strong mayor, elected by the people, could provide the spark, resolve and muscle sorely lacking in many council decisions (or, should we say, indecisions?).
But the elected mayor proposed in Charter Amendment Question 1 falls short of providing relief. It fails to give the mayor the power necessary to move the city forward, while adding a level of cost and bureaucracy. In addition, the ranked-choice vote mandated by the amendment is confusing and convoluted. Burlington, Vt., abandoned the practice in March; we urge Portland voters to reject Question 1.
We also urge Portland voters to reject Question 4, the citizen-initiated proposal that would amend the City Charter to allow voting in local elections by residents who are not U.S. citizens. We believe it's wrong to devalue a core component of what it means to be an American citizen.
We support the two other Charter Amendments. Question 2 would change the name of the School Committee to the Board of Education and provide compensation for board members equivalent to that received by city councilors. It would also require the board chairman to report annually on the state of the schools, and add language to the charter emphasizing the board's fiscal responsibility. Question 3 would remove outdated language and make technical changes to bring the charter in line with current law.
Town Charter Amendments in Freeport would increase the threshold for voter approval of town contracts and expenditures, and make technical changes to town policies and procedures, with particular attention to public accommodation for people with handicaps. We encourage voters to approve all five questions.
Voters in Topsham are being asked to retroactively ban cellular communications towers in some residential areas. We hope they don't. Cell phone use is an increasingly important fact of life, so much so that many people have abandoned traditional land-line phones for their cell phones. Demand for quality cellular service is only going to grow, and we believe the town – working with service providers, not against them – can balance that demand with resident's concerns without enacting a ban.
We also believe that the retroactive nature of this proposal sends the wrong message – that the rules of the game can change at any time – to anyone contemplating doing business in Topsham.
The municipal ballot in Scarborough includes six Town Charter amendments. Question 4 and Question 5 provide mechanisms for recall of elected officials and overturning of council decisions, respectively. We believe these proposals, and the other four amendments, are all in the town's best interest and we urge voters to support them.
Voters in South Portland are being asked for the second time to approve renovations at South Portland High School. Three years ago they rejected a $56 million bond proposal by a 3-1 margin. This year, they're being asked to borrow $41.5 million. As we did in 2007, we urge residents to vote yes.
There's no doubt that school and city officials haven't been the most effective leaders on this question. Their failure to adequately answer some of the questions and allegations raised by opponents may make them candidates for replacement, but it doesn't necessarily make them wrong. The stakes in this decision are high, but they're not measured in dollars alone.
Besides a tax bite that will be spread over many years, the city's future and its reputation are at risk. The high school's accreditation is under the microscope, which means the post-secondary educations and aspirations of entire generations of young people are on the line, too. Good schools attract hard-working families willing to pay for those schools. Their desire to live in the city helps maintain property values, they spend locally and their taxes support other services demanded by residents of all ages and income levels.
South Portland residents expect a lot from City Hall – efficient trash collection, competent and responsive public works and public safety departments, safe and snow-free streets – and have shown they are willing to financially support these services. It's time now, while construction and interest costs are at modern historical lows, to show support for the schools, too, by voting for the bond referendum.
Residents of Cumberland County are being asked to adopt the county's first ever Charter, the document that guides organization and management of county government. The Charter will help modernize and streamline county government, increase the number of commissioners from three to five and allow bonding up to $1 million without a referendum. We encourage its passage.