BANGOR, Maine — After more than two months of debate and number crunching, a majority of Bangor city councilors on Monday approved a 2010 fiscal year budget that maintains a flat municipal tax rate.
Not everyone was pleased, though.
“I’m opposing this and all budget-related items,” Councilor Pat Blanchette said at a meeting Monday. “I believe we’ve backed ourselves into a corner that allows no money for any breaks or errors. [My concern] is not directed at city staff. You did what we asked; we dropped the ball.”
Councilor Rick Bronson shared similar concerns but said keeping a steady tax rate is prudent for economic development purposes.
“Although, I certainly believe that next year will be much more difficult,” he cautioned.
In April, City Manager Edward Barrett submitted a proposed municipal budget of more than $45 million to city councilors that would have raised the property tax rate from $19.05 to $19.60 per $1,000 of assessed value. After several workshops, though, councilors agreed to a resolve that would create an amended budget that kept the city’s tax rate as close to $19.05 as possible.
Councilor Richard Stone, who pushed for that resolve, credited fellow councilors Monday for keeping their promise.
“I’m pleased that we accomplished our goal, but I also understand that this further tightens the city’s belt,” he said.
In order to keep the tax rate flat, Barrett and other city department heads were forced to trim $1.3 million. That resulted, among other things, in the elimination of five full-time staff positions.
Councilor David Nealley, who along with Blanchette opposed the budget, reiterated a suggestion he made many times during the budget process to no avail: Why didn’t the city try harder to forgo wage increases for unionized employees?
“It seems that private businesses everywhere are having to do this,” he said.
Although the city budget reflects a 1.8 percent increase in expenditures over last year, the tax rate will stay the same because the city gained property value. About half of the $45 million budget will be paid for by Bangor property owners.
City councilors and then Bangor voters already approved the Bangor School Department’s $42 million budget earlier this month.
While councilors officially put the 2010 budget to rest Monday, many expressed a desire to begin the next budget process much earlier than they ever have in the past in anticipation of even tougher choices in 2011.