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Big turnout needed to change South Portland charter, get stimulus money

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Big turnout needed to change South Portland charter, get stimulus money

SOUTH PORTLAND — Residents on Tuesday, June 9, will be asked to change the City Charter and borrow up to $3 million to replace a pump station near Long Creek.

Both initiatives are being driven by city leaders trying to position the city to receive federal stimulus money being funneled by the Department of Environmental Protection through the Maine Municipal Bond Bank's Revolving Loan Fund. 

The City Charter currently requires all of its borrowing be put out to public bid – a requirement that prevents the city from participating in the Revolving Loan Program, which offers subsidized loans to municipalities at low to no interest.

The charter change would allow the city to waive the public bidding requirement with a two-thirds vote of the City Council. 

"This charter change will not cost you any money," Mayor Tom Blake said at Monday's City Council meeting. "It will save you money."

The change will not only depend on getting more yes votes than no votes; it also depends on voter turnout. City Clerk Sue Mooney said that 3,165 of the city's 18,506 voters – 30 percent of the last gubernatorial election turnout –  have to cast ballots to amend the charter. 

That's a tall order, considering only 3,706 people voted in last year's presidential primary and 2,900 voted in the 2006 primary. A 2007 special state election only drew 1,400 voters and a special city election in 2005 only drew 978 voters.

Without changing the charter, City Manager Jim Gailey said on Tuesday, the only way the city could get the stimulus money would be through an inter-local agreement with another community in the Long Creek watershed that is authorized to use the program.

Thirty-seven percent of the loan would be forgiven, while the remaining balance would be offered at no interest. Whatever is not covered by the stimulus for the $5 million pump station project would be funded through the city's Capital Improvement Budget. 

Councilors used Monday night's open discussion at the end of the meeting to drum up turnout and support for both the charter change and the bond. 

"This will help us out immediately and over the long term," Councilor Tom Coward said. 

"We have heard over and over again – go for the (stimulus) money, grab the money, (but) we can't unless you help us," Councilor Linda Boudreau said. "It's very, very important financially to the city of South Portland to get voter approval." 

All voting, regardless of district, will take place Tuesday, June 9, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the South Portland Community Center, 21 Nelson Road. 

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net