Recently, the selectmen of Paris appointed five citizens to a newly formed Economic Development Committee. The EDC is charged with research on development opportunities and making recommendations to the select board. One initiative suggested at a recent workshop was the process to apply to the state for Paris to be designated as a “Certified Business-Friendly Community.” As of this date, in checking the Maine.gov website under the Maine Department of Economic Community Development, the 2017 program is being updated and finalized. No applications or acceptance dates are available.

While it makes sense to begin the process to be ready when, and if, the state DECD begins accepting applications again, we should be aware of what the state is looking for within the application.

The 2016 application awarded points based on multiple areas considered important to a town’s economic health and vitality. One criteria rated is “Licensing Permitting Mill Rates” (sic). Under this scoring area, we are asked to provide Paris’ mil rate for the past five years and projected mil rate for the next five years. We would then identify efforts and strategies the community has, or is implementing, to keep the property tax rate competitive.

While we can explain past increases and efforts to maintain a stable tax rate, citizens need to know that we have little control over the budgets of either our schools or the county, which significantly impact our mil rate. While Paris has no real waterfront property, or a casino, our citizens expect municipal services to be on par with other local communities. That is the budgeting reality we face as a community.

At the workshop and the most recent select board meeting, some members of the newly formed EDC brought forth their argument that any surplus funds should be used to address future increases in Paris’ budget, which includes the municipality, along with appropriations for SAD 17 and the Oxford County budget. The town manager and select board have discussed various options for use of the almost $218,000 in “surplus dollars” Paris has after all bills were paid in the previous tax year. While the select board may be demonized for overtaxing the citizens, the reality is that not all of the dollars appropriated at the annual town meeting were spent by the municipality, while every single dollar appropriated for the schools and county have been paid out to those entities, with no surplus returned to the community.

The select board can only make recommendations for the reallocation of previously voted funds. The select board cannot spend money in whatever fashion it might wish. Any recommendations are ultimately voted upon by the citizens of Paris. It was voted by the select board to recommend that the surplus funds be allocated to complete, in the coming summer season, the work to improve Mt. Mica Road. At this point in time, only half the road is slated for reconstruction in this calendar year. It makes fiscal sense to complete the work all at one time, from tax dollars already raised. It is shortsighted to do otherwise, as we will only need to raise the money next year to complete the project. Why risk raising the mil rate in the future when we can complete that project with dollars already in hand?

While members of the select board and Economic Development Committee may not agree on recommendations to citizens, it is important to Paris’ future to not have every disagreement explode into nuclear warfare. Paris can become the community it wants, and needs to be, by being collaborative and inclusive. Who wants to be on a board or committee if they fear being subjected to the politics of personal destruction? Do we really think being portrayed negatively in the press will help bring people, or business, to Paris? If people cannot calm down and work together, might I suggest a slogan for the contest characterizing the spirit of Paris? How about, “Paris, Banana Republic of Western Maine?”

In closing, the newly formed EDC brought to the select board’s attention the fact that Fryeburg is the only town in Oxford County designated as a “Certified Business-Friendly Community.” I understand that Fryeburg officials worked on the application for well over a year and was accepted on their first try, which is highly unusual. The person who led the process? Paris’ former town manager, Sharon Jackson, who was fired, without cause, in 2009 by several select board members certain they knew the best path for a prosperous Paris. Paris has been reeling ever since, trying to regain both its credibility and self-respect.

Government of any size and quality moves slowly and deliberately. While this can be frustrating to some, we need stable local government in order to become the community we wish to be.

Janet Jamison is chair of the Paris select board.

Janet Jamison


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