The citizens of Scarborough have a very important decision to make in the upcoming election concerning the Scarborough Village proposal. This concept is for an intergrated downtown development on the 535-acre parcel of Scarborough Downs. A racino is part of the proposal; hence, the referendum vote for a zoning ordinance change.

I supported the ordinance in 2002 that prohibited gaming in a B2 zone. I’ve been asked in recent weeks to take a similar position on this referendum. I’m neither a proponent or opponent at this time. The landscape is significantly different in 2008 concerning this issue.

In 2002, the estimated annual revenues to the town would have been $550,000. The question on the ballot guarantees the town $8 million a year. The Town Council can also negotiate this number significantly higher in the host agreement.

The impact on quality of life is often mentioned as a primary reason to reject this proposal. While I don’t discount there could be some impacts, this must be compared with the benefits to our quality of life that could be obtained using this revenue to improve services to the people of Scarborough.

The fact of the matter is five consecutive referendum questions for public projects have failed, and this trend is likely to continue. People are rightly concerned about tax burden in these uncertain economic times.

We have $68 million in school building projects in the five-year Capital Improvement Project budget. There is no debate that the Wentworth Intermediate School needs to be replaced. Does building a new school enhance our quality of life?

Our citizens have long desired a community center with a pool. The senior population in Scarborough has been under-served for decades and our teenagers could use a safe place to socialize. Would building a multi-purpose community center to meet the diverse needs of our community enhance our quality of life?

As the town continues to grow so do our public safety needs. A committee is working on a proposal for a new public safety complex to meet the needs of the community for the next century. Would building this complex enhance our quality of life?

The potential financial benefits to the town need to be considered when one deliberates on how to vote on this issue. The fact is, we could build $50 million in new school buildings, a community center with a pool, the public safety complex and still have $3 million annually remaining from the funds generated by this project to lower the tax rate.

There are several other key differences from six years ago. There was no intergrated downtown development proposed in 2002. Now there is a very attractive design for the entire 535 acre-parcel, which will further increase the tax base.

Unemployment was at a historic low in 2002. I’m not sure we’re in the position to say no to jobs of any kind in the current economic climate, in particular jobs that increase the tourism industry, which is vital to the future economy in Maine. It’s projected the racino alone would add 500 jobs with health benefits, with an average wage of $34,000 a year. There also would be many other jobs as the rest of the development is built out.

I’ve listened intently to the arguments to vote against this question. “We don’t want gambling in our community” is at the top of the list. However, we’ve already had gambling at Scarborough Downs for 50 years. In addition, lottery tickets and bingo are an accepted part of our society.

The perception is a racino would harm economic development. The reality is Fairchild is building its Eastern Region headquarters right across the street with another major tenant likely to do the same in the coming months. The project would pay for the expensive infrastructure costs for the Downs property, thus opening it up for further development.

Another point of contention is money leaving the state. The fact is, more than 50 percent of the net revenue goes directly to local and state government. After calculating in labor costs, the percentage leaving the state is likely less than 10 percent, no different from Wal-mart or Cabela’s.

There is much to consider as we individually deliberate on how to vote on this issue. Let your conscience be your guide, but please take a few minutes to weigh the potential benefits with the perceived impacts as to what is a very complex question.

Jeffrey Messer

Chairman, Scarborough Town Council


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