Calais: A Service Center Community

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By Gwen Clark

During a recent City Council Meeting the topic of the city of Calais being a service center and was determined as such by the State Of Maine.  A document that was circulating over the City managers’ List Server  just as recently as Friday August 23 which was a report from the Maine State Planning Office by the Task Force in Service Communities.    It is oddly enough that an article of this nature was recently circulated via a web site service  considering that this particular Article was Volume 1  of a Study performed by the said Task Force in August of 1998 and not at all a current listing.

Councilor Alan Dwelley read several passages directly from this text at the last Special City Council meeting  as part of a defensive stance against cutting more money from City Departments in order to provide the necessary funding for the schools requested for this year.   Councilor Dwelley was citing  a variety of communities from the list  such as Presque isle, Ellsworth, Skowhegan, Lincoln, Madawaska to name a few.  Other communities listed as service Centers are operating at a much higher level of services.  For instance Bangor, South Portland, Bar Harbor, Kennebunk, Old Orchard Beach, Lewiston, Auburn, Augusta,  . . .puts Calais in a different perspective in comparison.    Calais is one of twenty nine Service Center Communities within the State and this 1998 Report stated that there were sixty nine overall service center communities  within the State.  A recent check of the more current data showed that the number has increased to seventy one such Service Center Communities.  Other Washington County Service center Communities include: Eastport and Machias.

Some of the history and background  in the determination of a municipality a Service Center  began in the late 1960s and 1970s when the State of Maine had a period of “rapid suburbanization.”   The state planning office began to look at Maine’s new sprawling development pattern and by the mid 1990s they saw “evidence  that 30 years of disbursed growth had major cost and policy implications for the State.”  One example of the so called “sprawl” was that “state school siting criteria were forcing the abandonment of more compact in-town sites and the construction of new schools on larger more distant rural parcels.”  They felt that revitalization of the Service centers were key to prevent the “sprawl” effect.  Service centers were encouraged in order to maintain easily accessible hospitals, work places, shopping, arts and historical places, recreational and educational services and opportunities.   “The communities where we work, shop, obtain medical care or enjoy a cultural experience are what the legislature has termed “service centers’ or in at least nine municipalities  termed “regional service centers.”

Criteria which is considered in order for a community to be deemed a service center community includes:  population, commercial, industrial and urban land use, consumer retail sales, employment center index, (ratio of jobs in a municipality) Federally assisted housing,  income per capita or median household,  education institutions, libraries, museums and related educational or cultural resource services, State, Federal and County Government Offices, hospitals and health care facilities, health clinics and health care professionals, social services in non-profit agencies, professional services including legal services, engineering services, research and testing facilities and related highly specialized services.  Regional Service centers of which Calais is not require a more intense implementation and development of projects and index levels of 1.0 on a variety of identification criteria.

Basically the criteria that Calais has fulfilled is somewhat limited in nature but conforms to the requirements due to the high volume of traffic that travels through the city itself with some staying in the area briefly.   As a port of entry community from Canada and to Canada the city of Calais generates a large volume to maintain its area services

The vantage point of being deemed a service center community  may enable that municipality  to have a greater chance of eligibility or preferences for certain state loans, grants, and assistance.  Maines Growth Requirement Act requires that service centers receive priority consideration for certain state capital investments.  These service centers are   updated every ten years  to be on the list of service centers by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.