During the November 2 municipal election, Lincoln voters will be asked whether they approve the following amendment to the Town Charter:
SEC. 801. Overrule of Action of Council
All orders or resolves appropriating $100,000.00 or more for a single capital improvement and all orders or resolves authorizing general obligation bond issues of $100,000.00 or more for capital improvement, must be approved shall be subject to overrule by the voters in a referendum.
Right now, Section 801 of the Town Charter says that capital improvement projects of $100,000 or more require an affirmative vote from the voters. The Charter amendment changes the words “must be approved” to “shall be subject to overrule” by the voters. This change will allow the Town Council to enter into contracts to spend $100,000 or more on capital items without the voters’ pre-approval but still leaves a way for voters to overturn the Council’s vote if they disagree.
One purpose for this change is to give the Town Council the ability to purchase items that are ordinary to the operation of the town such as snow plows, Fire Department equipment, Transfer Station machinery, and infrastructure projects like sidewalk and road repairs. Many of these items used to fall under the $100,000 limit but cost more today.
Another purpose is to enable future economic development projects like the redevelopment of the former LP&T mill site. Biofine Developments Northeast Inc. (BDNE), the Town of Lincoln Maine, and the Lincoln Lakes Innovation Corporation announced in July that a tentative agreement had been reached for BDNE to locate its multi-phase biofuels refinery development on Lincoln’s former mill site. Projects like this will require the Town to apply for millions of dollars in state and federal grant funds for projects such as land acquisition, waste abatement, and infrastructure repairs. It will be important to quickly allocate those funds to keep the projects on their expected timeline. Right now, the voters need to approve every contract for a capital improvement of $100,000 or more, even if it is grant money. The Charter amendment’s overrule process will still give voters the ability to challenge spending they disagree with, but investors will not have to wait for a vote to proceed with investments in Lincoln. Grants for infrastructure and environmental cleanup are a necessary component of investment in the mill site.
Furthermore, the amendment will help make the Town Charter clear by aligning the language in Section 801 with the overall budget process in Section 610. Section 801 currently says that capital improvements of $100,000 or more require the voters’ pre-approval. Section 610 says capital improvements can be approved as part of the normal capital program and budget adoption method, which does not require the voters’ pre-approval. This succinct change corrects the contradiction.