February 23, 2024
ARPA is not for City Hall's wish list. An open letter to Bangor City Council.
Bangor City Council is considering using ARPA funding for City Hall's renovation "wish list" in Bangor, Maine while our housing crisis goes unsolved.

Dear Bangor City Council,

On Monday, March 13th, it was suggested by City Council to use ARPA funds for additional renovations for City Hall.

I strongly urge you NOT to use ARPA funds towards City Hall renovations, repairs, or additions.  

This ARPA process in Bangor already suffers from a transparency issue. Worse yet, the biggest issues facing this city aren’t being properly prioritized with this funding.

First, let’s talk about that transparency problem.

I call your attention to the City Manager’s FY2023 Budget Proposal 11 months ago, dated April 11, 2022:

FY23_Budget_Proposal.pdf (bangormaine.gov)

7 of the current Bangor City Councilors were serving on Council at that time and were recipients of this proposal. At the time the City Manager proposed spending $1,975,000 in ARPA funds on additional “wish list” renovations that were again revealed at Monday’s Council Workshop meeting.  

April 11, 2022. It is suggested to use ARPA funds for City Hall renovations. 11 months ago. 

January 9, 2023. No mention of City Hall renovations in the “priorities” and dollar figures therewith.  Even if you hadn’t received the exact costs to that point, you could have put in a specific placeholder.

March 13, 2023. It is suggested to use ARPA funds for City Hall renovations.  This was an old idea repackaged and presented as a new one.  This gives the appearance that the City Council is hoping nobody will be paying attention to how this will reduce spending on more important priorities. That’s not transparency.

If you spend ARPA funds on City Hall renovations in spite of this information, you will be adding another layer to the public distrust of the city of Bangor’s ARPA process:
 – City Manager missing 2 months (Q1&Q2 2022) of required ARPA Project & Expenditures reporting and didn’t tell anyone, including City Council, until I asked to see the reports.

 – The story for delaying working on ARPA changing 4 times when presented with facts via email:

      1. We were waiting to find a City Manager for 6 months, and then we ended up hiring the interim City Manager

      2. We were waiting on the Final Rule instead of using the interim Final Rule that the U.S. Treasury told us to use

      3. We were waiting to hire the Housing Specialist that we didn’t fund

      4. We jointly decided with Penobscot County in September that we would wait until after November’s election to talk, even though we said back in October to the public we were starting talks that week

– It was publicly stated ARPA funds would be used to hire an ARPA coordinator, however the City Manager did not use an open process to hire for a contract that will exceed $10,000. This is a requirement of Uniform Guidance for Federal Awards, 2 CFR §200. 

That’s also on top of the lack of updates on the $6,000,000 bond approved by voters in 2019.

I call your attention to the last 3 published Annual Financial Reports.

Bangor Annual Financial Report FY19:

On August 12, 2019, the City Council authorized the issuance of up to $6,000,000 in general obligation bonds to rehabilitate City Hall and replace/upgrade building-wide systems. Under Article VIII. Section 19(a)(1) of the City Charter, this authorization must be ratified by the voters of the City of Bangor. 

The item appeared on the November 5, 2019 City referendum ballot and was passed by the voters. 

Bangor Annual Financial Report FY20:

On August 12, 2019, the City Council authorized the issuance of up to $6,000,000 in general obligation bonds for the purpose of rehabilitating City Hall. As of June 30, 2020, the bond have not been issued. The City expects to issue the debt within the next eighteen months.

Bangor Annual Financial Report FY21:

On August 12, 2019, the City Council authorized the issuance of up to $6,000,000 in general obligation bonds for the purpose of rehabilitating City Hall. As of June 30, 2021, the bonds have not been issued. The City expects to issue the debt within the next eighteen months.

The grammar was corrected and the “as of” date changed in 2021’s copy and paste version, however both 2020 and 2021 have the same 18 month timeline with no accountability or explanation.  I hope FY2022’s report will provide the important details and context you would expect in an annual reporting of city affairs.

Let’s talk about that priority problem.

City Hall renovations are not anywhere near as big of a priority for ARPA funds as housing, mental health, and SUDs. Bangor’s City Government has not been acting sufficiently on the reports on housing and substance use disorder treatment. That inaction has cost us dearly.  Spending ARPA money on City Hall renovations would further support the appearance that Bangor City Council is having difficulty prioritizing the biggest issues the city is facing.

We’re coming up on 4 years since the housing report came out and we still can’t get the report’s 1st goal, a rental registry, up and going.  It’s still vague talk and empty promises.  As for the rest of the plan, we’ve waited so long we need to call the band back together and ask for an encore and another report.  Even our 5-year CDBG plan pointed out on 3 occasions that we could do more for affordable housing if only we had the money. Well, now we have the money. But yet, the people of Bangor are still holding their breath, waiting for action to be taken.

This priority problem was on full display this winter, when temperatures reached deadly lows. The community of Bangor pulled together to open emergency warming shelters, volunteer, and donate to save lives. The most visible contribution the city of Bangor made was a Facebook post about the warming centers, while it continued earning interest on an untouched balance of $20.8 million in the bank. Money that was bestowed by the U.S. Government for addressing this very issue. 

Monday’s suggestion for ARPA money being spent on City Hall renovations should have been dismissed out-of-hand.  The fact that it is being seriously considered is yet another example of the priority problem at City Hall.

Putting it bluntly:
People are dying without housing.
People are dying without access to substance use disorder treatment.

Nobody is dying because City Hall lacks a second elevator.

The people of Bangor have been waiting for nearly 2 years for City Council to use this ARPA money towards addressing our major issues of housing, homelessness, SUDs, and mental health.  Monday felt like a step backwards.

I call on the City Council to drop the idea of spending ARPA funds on City Hall, and find the money somewhere else. 

Put the focus back on Council’s stated priorities for ARPA funds, specifically Bangor’s biggest crises: housing, homelessness, substance use disorder, and mental health.

Respectfully,

Michael Beck

Bangor