Tuesday, December 10, 2013
By JOHN RICHARDSON
Firefighters at Brunswick Naval Air Station take down the flag for the last time at the base’s 2011 disestablishment ceremony. “Politics is getting in the way” of redevelopment, a reader says.
2011 File Photo/Gregory Rec
"Why did you choose Alabama?" I asked him. He told me that the state, region and municipality were all aligned in their interest in having Mercedes come to Tuscaloosa. "After all," he said, "no corporation wants to invest in a state when their leaders are not working together."
As then-speaker of the Maine House, I took this advice to heart when I drafted and sponsored legislation that formed the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority.
The legislation called for local, regional and statewide membership on the board. The proposal also called for the MRRA to support the town of Brunswick during redevelopment, not supersede its authority.
In recent years, this basic understanding has eroded.
• The Brunswick Town Council recommendations to the governor for local residents to serve on the MRRA board have been ignored.
• State and local officials have wrangled and second-guessed each other on recommendations for appointment and recruitment efforts, often in public.
• The state commissioner of economic and community development. has introduced legislation damaging to the town without public hearings.
• The governor has stopped the issuance of bonds approved by the people of Maine that would fund infrastructure improvements critical to the redevelopment efforts.
A simple Google search of "MRRA and Brunswick redevelopment" would convince many corporations to take their expansion plans elsewhere.
Recently, the town of Brunswick, faced with a deficit in the school department, rescinded the pending tax increment financing application that would have returned $12 million dollars in property taxes to MRRA for redevelopment. As further justification for the council's decision, Town Council Chair Joanne King argued that Brunswick doesn't have a voice in the redevelopment process, but is being asked to assume much of the financial cost of redevelopment.
The original intent of the MRRA legislation required the state of Maine to contribute to the MRRA's efforts to replace the estimated 4,800 jobs and $330 million in annual income that left the region when the Navy closed the base.
To date, the state has failed to adequately fund the redevelopment efforts at the base redevelopment agency. This lack of support is bad enough, but the commissioner recently proposed legislation to force the town of Brunswick to give 80 percent of all new property tax revenue to the MRRA at a time when the town faced a cut of $2.2 million in aid for local school funding.
The motives of the Town Council regarding the future of the MRRA have been called into question. The Town Council chair was publicly told that she didn't know what she was talking about. Such comments are harmful to future redevelopment efforts.
In the aftermath, state officials and the LePage administration seemed surprised at the Town Council's decision to rescind the proposed tax shelter agreement between the town and the base redevelopment agency.
Who can truly blame the Town Council for its actions? I doubt that even LePage, when he was mayor of Waterville, would have funded the costs of that city's redevelopment without any voice in the process.
We are at a crossroads, and the MRRA's future hangs in the balance. The Town Council chair is urging the governor to take politics out of the nomination process. Otherwise, we face more of the same and the eventual call to eliminate the MRRA.
The elimination of the base redevelopment agency, however, would be the wrong decision for the region. The midcoast region, the MRRA, the town and its people have much to offer prospective employers, but sadly, politics is getting in the way.
What we need is for the governor to call for mediation that brings together the towns of Brunswick and Topsham and the MRRA with his administration.
The governor should commit to the town of Brunswick that his administration will not interfere with any agreement reached between the parties. He should also commit to eliminating the public impression that appointments to the base redevelopment agency are based more on politics and favors than expertise.
At the conclusion of such a summit, there should be an agreement on how best to proceed that results in a unified message to corporate America. As the Mercedes chairman said, no business will invest in a state when their leaders aren't working together.
Despite what a Google search might find today, Brunswick has a lot to offer new businesses. If we miss this opportunity to redevelop the base, our future generations will pay the price for our collective failures.
John Richardson is the former state commissioner of economic and community development and an unopposed candidate for the Brunswick Town Council.