GARDINER — The City Council didn’t have the power to make Gardiner a member of the Kennebec Regional Development Authority with a council vote in 1999, according to the findings of the city attorney released Wednesday night.

Gardiner instead should have held a referendum to decide whether to join the regional development group and to appoint representatives to the authority’s general assembly, the attorney wrote.

Councilors discussed the issue with the attorney, Jonathan Pottle, from Eaton Peabody, in executive session at their Wednesday night meeting, but they said they needed more time before taking any public action.

The authority is the governing body of FirstPark, the regional business park in Oakland that has sustained a net loss of around $5 million for 24 central Maine communities over the last 15 years. Tax revenue is returned to the communities each year, but they’ve only been getting about 40 percent of what they paid back in recent years. As of last year, Gardiner had lost more than $300,000 on the investment.

The city owes the development authority almost $32,000 in December for its annual contribution, according to City Manager Scott Morelli.

Pottle laid out five options for the city: continue to make the annual contributions to KRDA, hold a city election to approve prior actions, stop contributing to KRDA, seek a court ruling declaring the city’s rights and obligations, and notify KRDA that the city must put the issue to voters.

He recommended that councilors discuss the issue in executive session and research additional facts about the situation.

Wednesday was the first time councilors discussed the legal opinion since voting Oct. 22 to request the city attorney to look into the issue.

Of the 24 communities from Kennebec and Somerset counties that joined the development authority, the only other with a city council form of government, Waterville, also joined the group by council vote. Augusta turned it down in a citywide referendum.

Waterville City Manager Mike Roy, who was town manager of Oakland at the time, has said previously that the question never has been raised in Waterville and that he thought city councils would have been the governing bodies authorized to join the authority.

The issue of whether Gardiner correctly joined the development has been raised by councilors a couple of times previously.

Another attorney with the city’s law firm told the previous city manager in 2008 that if there was an error in how the city joined the development authority, it’s unlikely the courts would invalidate the city’s membership and let the city off the hook for the outstanding debts already incurred.

Pottle wrote in his legal memo that he didn’t find any specific cases in Maine concerning unauthorized acts of a municipal body in relation to membership in a regional authority created by state statute, such as the KRDA. In cases involving contracts with municipalities, the municipalities are not generally liable for payment of unauthorized services, he wrote.

The City Council’s next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 3.

Beyond small medical offices and financial firms, the only major business the development authority has attracted to the park is a T-Mobile call center that opened in 2006.

The park has seen some positive development news recently, however.

A Montreal company making fleet management systems, Road King Technologies Inc., plans to open its U.S. headquarters in FirstPark. The company plans to lease part of a corporate office building in the park to start, but it hopes to grow its U.S. operation to 15 to 20 employees by the end of 2015, according to Harry Marks, the company’s president.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig


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