Debbie Laurie, newly appointed Bangor city manager at City Hall. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Bangor’s newly appointed city manager sees her position as a conduit between the City Council and city staff who want to tackle emerging issues like a lack of affordable housing, a burgeoning unhoused population in need of services and the question of how to redevelop parts of the city like the Bangor Mall area.

“The manager, in essence, is the bridge,” said Debbie Laurie.

“So, working to support the priorities established by the council and gathering the information that they need, ensuring that there’s a full and public discourse on any priority that they may have.”

Laurie became manager on Monday after city councilors voted to appoint her to the position permanently after she served as interim manager for six months as well as city finance director, a position she had held since 2001. She has worked for the city since 1992.

City councilors established priorities in January that they want to focus on this year, Laurie said. Those include addressing a dearth of affordable housing, connecting Bangor’s growing homeless population to more services and deciding what to do with an influx of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, from which Bangor wil receive $20 million.  

Housing prices have skyrocketed during the pandemic as low inventory, plentiful competition and low mortgage rates have shut out prospective buyers.

The total assessed market value for Bangor this year may increase by as much as 13 to 15 percent, the city assessor told the finance committee last week, reflecting the surging real estate market.

“We’re going to be seeing some market rate adjustments in property values,” Laurie said. “Obviously, residential property, as we know, is a very hot market, not a lot of supply and a lot of demand. So we are going to see an additional increase there.”

Bangor’s tax burden shifted during the pandemic to rely more on homeowners than businesses — a reflection of the real estate market and business losses early in the pandemic — though an influx of state funds helped alleviate some of that burden and allowed the city to lower the mill rate.

Laurie said she anticipated an increase for commercial spaces in this year’s property assessments as well, as more businesses return to near-normal operations.

Laurie said she also anticipated that the city council would consider rezoning some parts of Bangor for mixed use, or allowing buildings to be used for both businesses and housing, as part of its comprehensive plan process, which is expected to conclude at the end of 2022.

That idea was floated last week at a business and economic development committee meeting, as an option to address the future of the Bangor Mall, which has turned into an entertainment destination in recent years but still has vacancies from shuttered stores.

The city manager also anticipates that Bangor’s unhoused population will grow as the weather warms, making it a priority for the city to connect them to social services and help them find permanent housing.

The number of unhoused Bangor residents has grown and debates about homelessness  dominated last fall’s City Council election. Some have sought shelter outside, risking eviction from an encampment by the Penobscot River that the city sought to clear last fall, or have sheltered in hotels or condemned buildings. Some also stay with friends or family, Laurie said.

“The real challenge with addressing homelessness is there is no one solution,” Laurie said, citing challenging family dynamics, mental health issues and substance use disorder as compounding factors.

“You can’t say that this is how it’s going to be fixed because everybody may be in that situation for a different reason.”

Bangor is a member of the Built For Zero initiative, which helps cities figure out a framework for helping unhoused residents connect to social services like substance use disorder and mental health treatment and find housing, Laurie said.

Bangor has applied through its hub coordinator, Community Health and Counseling Services, to receive national support from Built For Zero, Laurie said.

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Lia Russell

Lia Russell is a reporter on the city desk for the Bangor Daily News. Send tips to