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The year to come
The year in review is always, like hindsight, presented with the crystal-clear benefit of 20-20 vision.
The year to come, on the other hand, depends on a crystal ball that always seems a little murky.
That being said, here are 10 issues that we see being of major importance to the Oxford Hills community in the coming 12 months.
1. Casino, Casino, Casino
From the moment the Oxford casino opens its doors next fall, the community will never be the same. The decisions that are made between now and opening day will determine whether the outcome is win-win, or win-lose for the community and Black Bear Enterprises. For the unlucky parent whose child turns 21 on opening day, now is the time to start preaching moderation on the gambling floor. For the business owner who hopes to capitalize on casino-generated traffic, now is the time to lay those plans. With Black Bear investment dollars being poured into payrolls, we predict that there will be a bump in the local economy for the second half of 2011. The predicted long-term effects, both good and bad, should be easier to measure in 2012.
2. Zoning in Paris
Zoning will not become a reality this year, but an as-yet-to-be-determined group of representative individuals will being zeroing in on what type of zoning plan will be presented to the voting public. The town government has expressed an interest in making sure that the zoning will be done in a way that helps to improve the town, without adversely impinging on the rights of individuals. That is a noble ambition but the devil, of course, is in the details.
3. The plight of the poor
The national economy is likely to improve over the next 12 months, but that is unlikely to change the problem of poverty in the region. General Assistance requests will probably maintain heightened levels, which will put a strain on local towns. Social service agencies are also stretched to the breaking point. You may not see the forthcoming economic crack, but you will hear about the hard times of your friends and neighbors.
4. A spiffier downtown in Norway
It's almost impossible to be pessimistic about the future of Norway's Main Street, due largely to the volunteer efforts of Norway Downtown. By this time next year, the Gingerbread House and the Norway Opera House will be much further along the path to historic preservation, and the new Agren Appliance anchor will have helped to entice even more storefronts to open their doors. Norway Downtown also seems to continually find ways to add small touches that give Main Street that little something extra.
5. Education reaches breaking point
The heroic struggles of local educators to make ends meet will not be enough to shield children from all of the effects of bone-scraping budget cuts. The increasingly stringent requirements of the No Child Left Behind program have served to stimulate creative solutions, but the requirements are getting increasingly unrealistic, especially as state aid shrinks, and federal funding runs out. Look for school closures, overcrowded classrooms, and less well-adjusted students.
6. Republican challenges
The Republican Party got a boatload of election candy the Tuesday after Halloween, but it better check for razor blades, as the burden of ownership of the state's problems will be tough to swallow. The incoming legislature has been full of tough talk about cutting state expenditures and balancing the budget, but the challenges require much more thought than a simple "tough love" philosophy suggests. Nearly every candidate has talked about creating a better climate for business by loosening environmental and other restrictions. The DEP will be reined in, but whether that impacts Maine's business climate remains to be seen.
7. Nateva the second
The first Nateva festival lost money, and happened to hit Oxford Hills at the same time as the worst heat wave in years. But promoters have expressed faith in the concept, and have gone out of their way to build a Nateva brand, rather than making their concert a quick cash grab. With a better weather forecast, and a year of experience under the belts of the promoters, we predict that year two will be a success.
8. Municipal squabbling
Schools need more money, and taxpayers want to pay less. Services cost more to provide, and the state is adding regulations and taking away funds. It's all a recipe for fiscal disaster, and municipalities will be set at each other's throats in an effort to hoard resources. Municipalities can make this situation work to their advantage by putting their municipal heads together to share resources in a way that benefits all, as when Buckfield headed up a think tank to explore regional firefighter shortages. Sadly, most opportunities will be squandered, as towns find it difficult to look beyond the short-term financial costs of each individual project.
9. Local businesses go high-tech
2011 may be the most critical year yet for our local business economy, which has lagged behind the nation in the transition to a new, technology-based economy. Several factors will make this the year to go big, or go home. A fiber-optic network is being considered as the business development community tries to create an internet-friendly infrastructure. Mills are closing, and a casino is opening. The state and federal governments continue to tempt businesses into green, high-tech energy solutions. Facebook and other social networking sites are becoming an expected facet of any local business. And the crucible of a flagging economy is burning away all of those slow-pokey business owners who aren't ready to get with the program.
10. You will call us.
As the Advertiser-Democrat winds up its 186th year of publication, its staff has come to expect, rely on, and be grateful for the massive amount of input we receive from the local community. A press release from a church. A phone call with a story idea. A photograph dropped off at our front desk. An individual who steps forward to write for us on a semi-regular basis. These interactions are our lifeblood, and, when all is said and done, our best and biggest stories begin with a tip generated by our readers. We don't know what that big story will be. But you do. Please call (or write or email) us and let us know, so that we can continue to report on news of importance to our community. We're looking forward to year number 187.