I spent a good portion of my early 20s on the Bangor City Council. I recall the thousand or so hours spent at 73 Harlow St. with fondness; this exercise is usually accompanied by an honest accounting of the gray hairs that came with the job. But when I share memories of my council term with friends and colleagues, I always lead with an expression of genuine admiration for Bangor’s municipal government.
Despite its relatively small size, Bangor is a national leader among municipalities that strive for progress, work to strengthen their neighborhoods, take big regional challenges head on, and consistently produce a measured and thoughtful city budget. Most notably, even if they know it may present a hard puzzle, city management is always willing to ask: “How can we do this better?” In short: residents of Bangor should be really proud of their city government.
There’s just one element that I can’t, with a straight face, say reflects this drive for a more efficient, more effective city government: Bangor City Hall. The beautiful, sturdy granite building reflects a time when citizens placed great value on stately government buildings, a celebration of democracy itself.
But the interior, especially the first floor with its inaccessible and confusing layout, would justifiably make any visitor wonder if they’d been transported back to the 1970s. Its lobby feels unwelcoming at best, with its siloed offices and dark, heavy wooden doors. Even though I was in the building most weekdays for three years, I still found myself scratching my head every time I tried to do business on the first floor. Fortunately, city staff kept an eye out for residents like me who looked lost.
In November, the residents of Bangor have an opportunity to vote on a bond that will be used to finally bring Bangor City Hall into the present. The modernization will streamline the citizen-customer experience; according to information from the city: “A ‘ one-stop shop’ experience on the 1st floor will consolidate multiple departments to one station, allowing customers to conduct all of their business in one place instead of traveling from office to office. This will create efficiencies for both customers and employees, and also translates to shorter lines.”
The improvements are necessary to better serve Bangor residents, but they also make strong business and sustainability sense. Funds from the bond will be used to overhaul the building’s inefficient heating and ventilation system that costs the city more than $80,000 per year. The one-stop shop model also offers the potential to extend the hours of operation while reducing overall operating costs and reinforcing collaboration among city staff.
These modest upgrades mean that 73 Harlow St. will continue to serve residents for decades to come, ultimately saving taxpayers considerable money in the long term.
The city’s Finance Committee unanimously recommended sending this bond question to referendum; the item was unanimously affirmed by the city council at its Aug. 12 meeting. Further, a number of current city councilors have expressed excitement for the renovation effort. Councilor Clare Davitt, in particular, recently highlighted the accessibility and safety benefits of the proposed renovation in a Facebook post. Renovations will make the building Americans with Disabilities Act compliant, ensuring that Bangor’s local government is one of and for all people.
Without a doubt, this referendum is one of the final essential steps to bring the city of Bangor more fully into modernity as it strives for a brighter future. City staff, councilors and countless residents are all working hard to improve life in Bangor, and it’s time that the building reflects that obligation. On Election Day, please vote “yes” on the bond referendum.
Joshua Rosen of Portland is pursuing a dual JD/MBA from Maine Law and the University of Maine School of Business. Formerly Joshua Plourde, he served on the Bangor City Council from 2013-2016.