The town of Lincoln says a change that would let it spend $100,000 or more on some projects without first getting voters’ approval would help along redevelopment at the local former paper mill site that a company is eyeing for a biofuels refinery.
The Nov. 2 ballot has an item that would change a section of the town charter to allow council members to approve capital improvement projects of $100,000 or more without requiring voters’ prior approval.
If Lincoln residents vote to amend the charter, councilors would be allowed to spend money without pre-approval, but residents could still vote to overrule those decisions later, according to Katie Gloede, the town’s communications director and events assistant.
The impetus for the amendment came from Lincoln entering into a tentative agreement in July with Biofine Developments Northeast Inc. to allow the company to open a biofuels refinery development on part of the town’s former mill site, Gloede said. Lincoln bought the land in 2018, three years after Lincoln Paper and Tissue declared bankruptcy and closed the mill.
The town plans to apply for “millions of dollars in federal and state grant funding” for land acquisition, waste abatement, infrastructure repair and other work at the old mill site to allow for redevelopment, Gloede said.
A successful charter amendment would allow Lincoln to more easily enter into such grant contracts, offset “voter fatigue” from repeated referendums and reduce the amount of time that companies like Biofine might need to wait before residents approved spending from the town that’s key to their development plans, Gloede said.
The change would also allow Lincoln to spend money on basic items such as snow plows, fire department equipment and infrastructure repairs without needing to consult voters every time, Gloede said.
“Very basic things cost more,” she said. “They used to fall under the $100,000 limit but everything costs more, so now all these things have to go out to the voters.”
At a Thursday night information session on the charter change, a Lincoln school board member said that development at the mill site would bring “good, much needed jobs” back to the area.
“Those are good, non-technical jobs,” said Brian Sweep, the board vice chair for Regional School Unit 67. “That’s the sort of work that will allow our kids a future in this town without continuing to participate in the Maine brain drain.”
“This charter change is absolutely imperative to be able to give [Lincoln] the necessary tools to apply for grants in support of the investors that are looking to locate to Lincoln,” said Ruth Birtz, the town assessor and economic development assistant.
“But if we have to go to a vote every single time we apply for a grant, it delays the project for significant amounts of time,” Birtz said.