The Maine Viewpoint
Editorial opinions from across the state.
PORTLAND PRESS HERALD
Gangs of Portland
The quality of life in Portland is its greatest selling point. Relatively low crime, good schools, historic architecture, and a beautiful natural setting all contribute to making it a desirable place to live and work. But the character of a city is a fragile thing, and it would not take much to unravel Portland’s and make the city an unrecognizable place.
One threat is crime, particularly gang-related crime, which has taken a toll on big and midsize cities throughout the nation. It doesn’t take much activity to poison a neighborhood with drugs and violence, driving down property values and driving away good people.
Portland Police Chief James Craig has made uprooting two nascent gangs in the city a priority. It is the right priority and he is promoting the right way to go about it.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, gang activity is migrating to suburban and rural areas, in part because of big-city police departments’ success in breaking up gang hierarchies and making it difficult for them to do business.
Craig is a veteran of that battle. As a police commander in Los Angeles, he is familiar with the techniques that a department can use to turn a whole community against the gang members. Craig is working with neighborhood groups and members of the immigrant communities that might be preyed upon. That means reaching out to youth through athletic leagues and other programs and letting people in neighborhoods know that the police will protect them.
So far there are two groups that Craig says his department has identified that operate as gangs — meaning that they work in a coordinated manner under a leadership structure on a criminal enterprise.
Talking about them in public could be seen as a dangerous move for the chief,
elevating the importance of a few ordinary criminals, creating an undeserved bad
reputation for the city. But because the city’s good reputation is so important, the
police should take even the chance of emerging gang culture very seriously. Too much is riding on this remaining a livable small city, and winning that quality of life back would be much harder than fighting to keep it.
TIMES RECORD, BRUNSWICK
Supporting Maine’s Dairy Farms
Ask anyone on the street who might be the state’s largest employers, and it’s a safe guess that Bath Iron Works, with approximately 5,500 employees, and L.L. Bean, at roughly 5,400 employees and another 6,000 seasonal employees, will be among the answers.
Less likely to be mentioned is Maine’s dairy industry — pegged by the Governor’s 2009 Dairy Task Force as providing four thousand direct jobs. Now add to the equation these facts: Maine’s 315 dairy farms generate more than $570 million in sales each year and contribute more than $25 million in yearly state and local taxes.
Unfortunately, it’s largely invisible. By and large, we take for granted the Maine-made milk available at the supermarkets. We admire the open hayfields and pastures with grazing Holsteins. But we give nary a thought to the milk pricing crisis that has put many dairy farmers in the unsustainable position of selling their milk for less than the cost of producing it.
Nor do we give much thought to how many other jobs depend on a healthy and sustainable dairy industry — the local feed distributors, cattle dealers, milk processors, truckers, mechanics, veterinarians, and all the others who support the 315 dairy farms scattered throughout fifteen counties.
Step 1, then, for helping the Governor’s 2009 Dairy Task Force achieve its goal of stabilizing Maine’s beleaguered dairy farmers involves acknowledging that this is an industry we can ill afford to lose. In its twenty-page report, the task force offers ample reasons to be concerned. “Some say that the dairy industry is at a critical point with infrastructure,” the report warns. “When that point is reached, the supports needed to maintain the industry will leave the state.”
This realization is critical because lawmakers who’ve just returned to Augusta might otherwise give dairy farmers short shrift while struggling to address a $438 million shortfall in the state budget.
Some key decisions will have to be made in this session to help our dairy farmers — including the task force’s recommended changes in Maine’s financial support system known as the “Tier Program” that will require “emergency” legislation before February 1 in order to be implemented in the 2010 fiscal year.
Lawmakers who might be inclined to second guess the task force’s recommendations would do well to read its report closely and then visit a local dairy farm to hear firsthand just how close to economic collapse many of them happen to be.
JOURNAL TRIBUNE, BIDDEFORD
Biddeford’s Vacant Buildings
In some markets, it’s apparently a difficult time to be a landlord. Biddeford’s code enforcement office is coming upon an increasing number of empty apartment buildings — some in foreclosure, others simply abandoned.
The trend shows how high unemployment can deflate the value of rental housing. Anyone who loses a job has an immediate incentive to consider moving in with friends, relatives, or otherwise reducing the cost of shelter.
But the growing number of vacant buildings in Biddeford is more than an economic indicator. It is a situation that is creating public safety hazards, according to Code Enforcement Officer Roby Fecteau.
Squatters sometimes move in, increasing the risk of fire. In unheated buildings, undrained pipes burst during freezing weather, causing heavy damage. Structurally unsound buildings are a danger to firefighters, and anyone else who might have occasion to enter.
The city must do what it can to minimize risks associated with vacant and abandoned buildings. Fecteau is urging an ordinance requiring property owners to secure any of their buildings that become vacant, boarding up and turning off utilities.
The plan also may expand upon the fire department’s practice of placing caution signs on dangerous buildings.
Work is just getting under way on this proposal and banks and property owners will no doubt want to comment on the details. Even though it may be costly to owners and difficult to enforce, an ordinance like this will protect emergency personnel and the public.