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Voter turnout too low to change South Portland Charter

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Voter turnout too low to change South Portland Charter

SOUTH PORTLAND — Officials said they are not giving up on amending the City Charter after voter turnout on Tuesday was insufficient to support a change.

Although 60 percent of voters supported a charter amendment and 64 percent supported a $3 million bond to replace the Long Creek pump station, both initiatives were defeated because only 11 percent of the city's 18,605 registered voters turned out. A 17 percent turnout was needed for the measures to pass.

The charter change would have allowed the city, with a two-thirds vote of the City Council, to bypass the public bidding process on borrowing packages and take advantage of the Maine Municipal Bond Bank's Revolving Loan program, which offers low- to no-interest loans to communities. 

The city placed the charter change on the June 9 ballot in an effort to position itself to receive federal stimulus money being funneled through the bond bank by the Department of Environmental Protection. The amendment was coupled with a separate $3 million bond to fund replacement of the Long Creek pump station.  

Voters ultimately approved changing the charter by a vote of 1,324 to 744, but only 2,123 people cast ballots – well below the 3,125 needed for the change to take effect. To change the charter, 30 percent of those who voted in the most recent gubernatorial election needed to cast ballots.

City Clerk Sue Mooney said a surge of voters between 4:30 p.m and 6:30 p.m. gave city officials hope the threshold would be reached.

"For a while I thought we might get up to the 3,000-plus votes," Mooney said. "But things quieted down after the dinner rush."

City Manager Jim Gailey said Wednesday the city will look to place the same question on the November ballot, where voter turnout is traditionally much higher. 

"We knew in March and April that we were pushing a rock up a hill in terms of voter turnout," Gailey said. "We will definitely have a discussion about bringing this forward in November."

Gailey said the Long Creek pump station is next in line for stimulus
funding, if approved projects come in under budget or fail to move
forward. If South Portland is approved for funding, the city could put the $3
million bond out to public bid, with the expectation that the Municipal Bond
Bank would come in as the lowest bidder. 

But if no stimulus funds are available, Gailey said the city will not borrow the $3 million bond to replace the Long Creek Pump station and instead will fund the $5 million project through the city's Capital Improvement Plan using sewer user funds and tax increment financing.

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