[Editor’s note: Belfast resident Nancy Hamilton read the following statement at the Belfast City Council’s March 2 meeting.]

I want to first make it clear that I do not oppose the creation of a Belfast Civic Center. It would be a nice addition to the city, and I support any private efforts to do so. What I do oppose is using taxpayer dollars to purchase, renovate and maintain such a facility.

The Belfast Civic Center Synopsis lays out a scenario which begins with the city negotiating with Mathews Brothers to purchase their building, so not only would the city be spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.3 million, but it would be removing the property from the tax rolls and reducing city income by something like $17,000 a year.

[Editor’s note: The “Synopsis” to which Hamilton refers was prepared by City Manager Joe Slocum based upon a telephone conversation with one of the principals of the Belfast Civic Center Committee. Slocum said he prepared the synopsis in an effort to clarify the request being made of the Council.]

The next item on the Synopsis timeline has the city providing $100,000 for operating costs, as well as $1.1 million for Phase 1 construction. Where would this money come from? Surplus? A bond issue? Would it be written into next year’s budget? Let’s take these one by one.

In a nation and a state that are operating at a deficit, our city has a surplus. That’s a good thing! Is it wise to draw down the surplus for this project in today’s uncertain economic climate? Virtually all the economic experts predict that inflation will kick in within the next year. And if cap-and-trade passes, even its proponents admit that it will result in huge increases in fuel and utility costs, and the city could see a large part of the surplus quite literally go up in smoke in coming years. The American people have finally stopped their spending binge and individual savings rates are climbing. Would the city take money from its rainy day fund when we can all see the storm clouds coming?

Of course, you could float a bond, so, in addition to the several million it would cost to buy the property and turn it into a civic center, the city would be paying interest. That’s the city’s version of “charging it” on a credit card, something many Americans have lately come to regret.

Then there’s the budget. I can’t believe, after watching the care that the city manager, department heads and Council members took with this year’s budget that you would add in several million. That would make a mockery of the entire budgetary process — something we taxpayers applauded.

The final item on the Synopsis is that the Belfast Civic Center Board would raise the estimated Phase 2 construction costs of $2.3 million by December 2012, with half of this amount — over a million dollars — coming from individual donors, and the other half from state, federal and foundation sources.

We are in the greatest recession in 75 years. Philanthropic giving is down, and arts organizations are hurting all over the country. Our state and federal governments are operating in the red, and foundations’ investments are worth only a fraction of what they were a year and a half ago. And most economists say there’s an even chance this will be a “double dip” recession, with things getting worse before they ultimately get better.

What if the Civic Center Board fails to raise the requisite money? When a private individual or corporation plans a major project, the city normally requires a performance bond, in case the project isn’t completed. What if this project isn’t completed? Without Phase 2, the facility would not generate the anticipated income, which likely would result in an even larger yearly deficit than projected.

And let’s talk about that deficit. I’ve closely examined the proposal and accompanying spreadsheet, and have real questions about who will be expected to make up that deficit — I have a sneaking suspicion about who that might be — as well as questions about how realistic it is. While it is a draft document, there are glaring internal inconsistencies and what I consider unreasonable assumptions underlying many of the figures. I hope the Council will exercise its fiduciary responsibility to the people of Belfast and ask the same kinds of hard questions of the Civic Center Board that a bank loan officer would ask them if they were asking for a loan. But the Civic Center Board isn’t asking for a loan — it’s asking for a handout.

If people want an event center, fine — form a nonprofit, obtain funding and go right ahead. Just don’t ask Belfast taxpayers to fund what many of us see as a frill in these economic times. Many of us are out of work — Waldo County’s unemployment rate is 9.8 percent — and even more of us (such as myself) are working only part-time because we can’t find full-time employment.

Many have had to take early retirement, or have been retired for years, and are on fixed incomes. We are faced with rising taxes and looming inflation. Some of the Center’s proponents say that we can’t wait — well, why not? The rest of us are waiting — waiting to put a new roof on the house, waiting to replace an aging, unreliable vehicle, waiting to have a troublesome tooth fixed, waiting to replace a worn winter coat, and the list goes on.

Many of Belfast’s residents were raised in the Depression or by Depression-era parents who quoted the old New England proverb, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” We can’t do without fire and police protection, or snowplowing our streets — but we can do without a civic center.

As you debate this issue, I’d like to remind the Council that the money you are considering spending is not your money, nor the city’s money. It’s our money — the taxpayers’ money — hard-earned, and hard parted-with. And we expect you to spend it wisely.

It’s been said lately that elections have consequences. It’s also true that elections can be consequences — and if Council members move ahead with this endeavor, the citizens of Belfast may very well decide in the next election to move ahead without you.