Risk and control go hand in hand

To the Editor:

The citizens of Bar Harbor will have a choice to make in June when voting whether or not to approve a general obligation bond issue that will allow them to purchase the old ferry terminal site.

If they vote “yes,” the town will then own the property and be able to choose whether and how to develop it. True, they will be obligated for payment of interest and principal on the $3.5 million face value of the bonds. With the town’s $1.5 billion taxable property valuation, that does not seem like an unreasonable burden to retain complete control of the property.

As the voters prepare to make their choice, it seems worthwhile to look back on a lesson to be learned from the demise of LD 1400, the Bar Harbor Port Authority Bill. Choice and control are the key words here.

When the governor’s veto of LD 1400 was sustained by the Legislature, many citizens were upset that there would be no town vote for or against the establishment of a Bar Harbor port authority. The choice had become the state’s, not theirs.

This is what happens when a town goes to the state to ask for help in funding a project. The many vested interests that make up the state have their say. A lender, donor, authorizing agency, state legislature or governor has the right to say “no.”

The lesson here is that if Bar Harbor wants to retain full control of the property, the town will have to buy, plan, develop, construct and manage it. It must look very carefully at all contracts to ensure it retains full control. It must be willing to assume the risks inherent in retaining control.

If it looks for partners to share the financial burden, be they private, state, cruise line or other, Bar Harbor will have to cede some of that control.

The burden need not fall solely on the taxpayers. Usage, landing, per passenger fees, backed by long-term contractual guarantees from the cruise industry, can defray the costs of the revenue-backed bonds issued to fund development.

In this world, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Bar Harbor should assume full ownership of and responsibility for the project … or ask for outside help and surrender some or all choice and control.

Ann Michelson Hirschhorn


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