Rome residents may have already voted in favor of withdrawing from the Kennebec Regional Development Authority, but the issue is coming back before the town due to an error in protocol.

There is a public hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Rome Town Office because the town voted prematurely by not holding the public hearing before the official vote.

“It’s my understanding that they were supposed to have a hearing before the vote, and since they did not have the hearing, the vote didn’t count,” Rome Board of Selectmen Chairperson Paul Anderson said Monday morning.

At its annual Town Meeting in mid-March, Rome residents voted 178-75 to withdraw from the KRDA. The vote did not count, because there was not a public hearing held before. Tuesday’s public hearing precedes the official final vote, which will occur at the same time as the Regional School Unit 18 budget validation referendum slated for June 8.

“It’ll be a vote to authorize the selectmen to get out at the appropriate time, which is when there’s no longer any debt,” Anderson said. “I believe FirstPark authorizes people to get out only when there is no debt by FirstPark, and that’s supposed to happen later on this year.”

Established in 1998, the 24-member KRDA supports Oakland-based FirstPark. The investment was initially expected to be paid off within about 10 years, but it did not happen due to economic roadblocks. No towns have withdrawn yet, but many have lost money since the start of the project.

The original projections called for towns to recoup their entire investment by 2009 including another $6.5 million in bonds for a complete build-out of the park that has yet to happen. The original study, done by  New Hampshire-based RKG associates in 1998, anticipated there would be approximately 3,000 employed at the park by the end of the initial 20-year agreement, which ended last year.

FirstPark paid off its bond debt in November, signaling an opportunity for member communities to gain more tax revenue. The 285-acre business park is anchored by T-Mobile. The businesses at FirstPark employ approximately 1,000 people.

Bioenergetic Healing, Gateway Financial Partners, Northern Light Podiatry, L.L.Bean, MaineGeneral, Maine Medical Partners, Maine Eye Doctors, One River CPAs, Waterville Community Dental Center and SurgiCare also own space at the park.

The 24 municipalities behind FirstPark are located in Kennebec and Somerset counties. The towns involved are Anson, Benton, Canaan, China, Clinton, Cornville, Fairfield, Farmingdale, Gardiner, Hartland, Manchester, Norridgewock, Oakland, Palmyra, Pittsfield, Readfield, Rome, Sidney, Smithfield, Solon, Starks, St. Albans, Waterville and Winslow.

The park made four sales in 2020, the most since it started commercial real estate in 1999. FirstPark officials believe the park is growing, but the people of Rome are skeptical of how their investment will ever pay off.

“(Residents) don’t see any hope of getting in the black on FirstPark,” Anderson said. “We’ve never gotten back in any year more than they’ve put in.”

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