PORTLAND – After many years of discussion, the time is upon the voters of Cumberland County to weigh in on the renovation of the Cumberland County Civic Center. My advice to the voters is: Please vote this bond down.

I start with the premise that government should not be in the sports and entertainment business. If it must be in this business, it should be on the basis of providing value to the residents of the locality that they are serving. The civic center, in the middle of the city of Portland, does not do that.

It does not make money for the county and only provides ancillary benefits to a few businesses adjacent to the building. Go one block away, and there is no economic benefit beyond the parking lots that drivers pour in and out of. Very few events provide incentive for civic center users to access area businesses.

Some myths are being used to sell the bond issue:

• It is a $33 million bond issue.

It is not a $33 million bond issue. The payback over the next 20 years will be $55 million or more.

The county commissioners were not provided a correct accounting of the payback before they voted to send the issue out to vote, so we don’t even know the full amount.

The 20-year cost of a $32.2 million bond is $54.3 million at 4.5 percent, with a yearly payment of $2.1 million. The proposal on the ballot is for $750,000 more than the amount the commissioners were provided — a payback schedule that will result in a higher payment amount and a higher total cost.

• There will be $1 million a year in new revenue that will offset the bond cost.

The information provided the commissioners clearly shows that the payback cost of the bond will be at least $2.1 million, which was the amount of the jail bonds that will be paid off this year.

They said that a renovated venue will generate more concession sales but don’t mention that such sales come with additional cost of product, etc.

There has been no business plan laid out to show how increasing the concession will increase profit. They will need to do more events to get more people into the building to increase sales.

They also talk about a possible surcharge, citing the Merrill Auditorium example. The Merrill Auditorium ticket surcharge is $2 on tickets that cost a minimum of $35.

An Aug. 9 Press Herald article on the bond issue noted that a $1 surcharge would raise $340,000, which tells us that total usage of the civic center is 340,000 people per year. That adds up to 6.8 million visits over the 20-year life of the bond. Thus, the bond is going to cost $8 per visitor.

• There will be expanded capacity and seats.

The $33 million will not add seating capacity to the building. They are also replacing the existing seats and reconfiguring the three main entrances.

It will add bathrooms, concessions and loading dock areas. Center Street (the loading dock side) cannot handle the volume of activity the present configuration provides; adding loading docks is not going to solve any problems.

• The civic center makes money.

Not withstanding that the county has already provided about $1 million in capital funding that is not carried on the civic center books, the civic center has lost money in most of the last several years.

The county budget recognizes it as a break-even proposition by budgeting $1.5 million in revenue and $1.5 million in expenses. There has not been a pro forma accounting on how the renovations being bonded are going to actually generate additional revenue.

All that has been done is to provide studies done in years past that postulate best-case scenarios on what the income could be. These are all based on configurations that are not planned in the present bond issue proposal.

• Revenue will go down if we don’t do these renovations.

The argument being proposed is that this is a small project in the scheme of county government and if we don’t spend the money on the civic center, the taxpayer will not see any difference on their tax bill. Whether the property tax payers of Cumberland County see a reduction in their tax bill is a function of their local municipality passing the savings on to the taxpayers.

That fact is that the $2.1 million jail bond is more than 5 percent of the total county budget of $40 million, which includes the jail, enterprise funds, civic center operations and grants. The taxpayer (via municipal assessments) portion of the budget is $22.5 million, meaning that the debt service on the original jail bond is 9.6 percent of the taxpayer burden of Cumberland County.

The benefits claimed are actually wishes and hopes, with virtually no analysis that supports such outcomes. Please join me in sending this one to the locker room defeated.

– Special to the Press Herald