Councilors find compromise on public works, fire department budgets

Posted May 28, 2010, at 9:06 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — City Council Chairman Richard Stone and the four other councilors who backed the idea knew they wouldn’t get a full 10 percent cut from the public works and fire department budgets.

But if they didn’t make the request and force the uncomfortable conversation, Stone insisted, those department budgets might not have been cut at all.

At a workshop on Thursday, city councilors heard alternate proposals from public works and fire officials to address tight budget constraints.

City Engineer Jim Ring, on a behalf of public works director Dana Wardwell, suggested cutting $59,000 in three areas instead of the $329,000 represented by the 10 percent overall reduction request. The reductions proposed by Ring included a more favorable contract for roadside trash collection, the elimination of spring cleanup and the elimination of two temporary laborer positions.

“This is our professional judgment on reductions that could be taken with minimal impact,” Ring said.

The engineer pointed out that the original proposed budget already included a reduction of $108,000 in public works. The 10 percent cut of $329,000 on top of that would have eliminated six full-time positions.

Stone told Ring he was impressed with the alternative and praised staff for pushing back. Councilor Cary Weston, who had supported the 10 percent cut, also was appreciative of the effort.

Councilor Gerry Palmer said public works, while not a revenue generator, is, “part of the meat and potatoes of what the city does.”

As for the Fire Department, a cut of 10 percent would have equaled $459,000. Fire Chief Jeff Cammack indicated that it would mean firing seven firefighters and closing Station 5.

Instead, Cammack presented an alternative that would apply federal grant funding to next year’s operating budget, reduce overtime by nearly $50,000 and cut funds from the department’s equipment reserve. Under that alternative, Station 5 would stay open and no firefighters would lose their jobs.

Stone said the Fire Department’s alternative might just postpone the inevitable, but that he could live with it at this point.

An initial budget proposed by interim City Manager Bob Farrar in March would have raised the tax rate about 80 cents. After meeting with city councilors, a majority of whom wanted to keep a flat tax rate, Farrar resubmitted a $44.5 million budget that included the 10 percent cuts in fire and public works.

That budget kept Bangor’s property tax rate flat at $9.28 per $1,000 of property valuation, but with the alternative plans proposed by the public works and fire departments, that rate would now increase by 10 cents. The final budget will be voted on later this month.

The Bangor School Committee and the City Council both approved the 2010-11 school budget earlier this week, which increases the school share of the tax rate from $8.70 to $8.77 per $1,000 of property valuation.

The City Council will hold a public budget session at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 2, at the James F. Doughty School for residents to voice opinions and concerns about the 2010-11 budget.

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