Bangor school plan has 1.45% increase

Posted March 04, 2010, at 9:46 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Superintendent Betsy Webb presented an initial 2010-11 school department budget that seeks to increase expenses by 1.45 percent and rely on federal stimulus funding and additional taxpayer support to offset expected losses in revenue.

The proposal calls for an estimated $725,000 increase in local share, which would translate into a roughly 30-cent increase in Bangor’s property tax rate.

The budget is subject to change in the next several weeks because, as Webb pointed out to the school committee on Thursday, there are a lot of moving parts. For instance, Webb learned on Wednesday that Bangor likely would see an additional $375,000 in state subsidy restored for the next budget year. However, she then learned Thursday morning that Bangor’s citywide tax valuation has dropped significantly, which could result in a School Department loss of up to $400,000.

“With this new information, we’ll be making adjustments prior to the budget’s first reading [on March 24],” she said.

Last December, Webb and her staff were charged by the school committee to present a budget that did three things: represented the best interests of students, maintained the level of services the Bangor School Department is known for, and showed fiscal responsibility.

Webb said she thought her proposed 2010-11 budget of approximately $42.7 million achieved those goals.

Committee Chairwoman Phyllis Guerette agreed, but she worried about the long-term impacts of short-term cuts in certain budget items.

Although the budget increases expenses by $610,262 over the 2009-10 fiscal year (that budget also increased expenses by about 1.5 percent from the previous year), most of that is in salary and benefit increases to teachers and staff. In order to soften the impact of those increases, cuts needed to be made in capital improvements, materials and the elimination of some teacher positions through attrition.

Based on projections by Webb and School Department business director Alan Kochis, Bangor stands to lose $1.3 million in state subsidy and another $400,000 from other revenue streams.

In order to pay for all planned expenses, Webb proposed an increase of $2.34 million from the local share. Normally, that would be paid for entirely by Bangor taxpayers, but the School Department has leftover federal stimulus stabilization funding from 2009-10, coupled with new stimulus funding for 2010-11. Applying that stimulus funding results in a proposed increase to taxpayers of $724,846, or 3.5 percent, in the local share. That represents about a 30-cent increase in the current property tax rate of $19.05 per $1,000 of valuation.

The increase didn’t seem to raise any eyebrows from school committee members on Thursday. Nick Bearce, the only member of the public who attended the budget presentation, echoed Guerette’s concerns about short-term cuts.

“Salaries and salary-driven expenses are going up drastically, but everything else takes a hit,” he said. “I’m leery of a budget that cuts this much.”

The School Department budget process started last August. When the first draft was created in January, the budget was $43.5 million. That has been whittled down to $42.7 million.

“A 1.45 [percent] increase, in my opinion, is the lowest we should go,” the superintendent said.

The school committee is scheduled to review the budget a handful of times before a final vote. Once it’s approved, the budget will go before the City Council for approval. Voters then will have the final say at the ballot box in June.

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