BANGOR, Maine — The dozen or so residents who spoke at a public meeting Wednesday about Bangor’s proposed municipal budget all agreed that what makes the city great is its many services.
In that spirit, most urged the City Council to think seriously about any budget cuts that could affect the quality of some of those services — specifically the Bangor Public Library and the BAT Community Connector bus system.
Martin Chartrand, one of the youngest members of an audience of about 50 gathered at the James Doughty School, reminded councilors of the importance of the BAT for people to work and be successful in Bangor.
Henry Garfield, who works at the University of Maine and is a frequent bus rider, said that in tough economic times, the city should be expanding bus services, not cutting them.
The nine-member City Council, which has been wrestling with the 2010-11 budget since last August, will make final budget decisions tonight.
Wednesday was an opportunity for residents to have their say in the process about some of the proposals that have been discussed by councilors.
Some of the more controversial topics, such as proposed 10 percent across-the-board cuts to the Public Works and Fire departments and a big reduction in funding to the library, had been settled before the public session. The Fire and Public Works departments convinced the council to agree to alternatives that avoided the 10 percent cuts, and the library also proposed an alternative that is likely to receive council support.
Still, the library came up often Wednesday.
Regina Graham, president of the library friends group, feared that any cuts to the library would ruin one of the things that makes Bangor great. Carol Harriman suggested that the city restore full funding to the library.
Other than the library and the BAT, no other budget item generated much discussion. Local lawyer and former city Councilor N. Laurence Willey suggested that the city use some of its undesignated fund balance, or reserves, to offset reductions, and even dip into the city’s arena fund.
Jack McKay, a Greater Bangor labor leader, also brought up the idea of taking some of the money set aside for the arena, which he called a luxury rather than a necessity.
The budget of $44.5 million that has been proposed would increase the municipal side of the property tax rate by 4 cents from $9.28 to $9.32. Add in the School Department and Penobscot County shares, the city’s overall rate would rise from $19.05 to $19.20 per $1,000 of property valuation.
If the members of the public all agreed that Bangor’s services are crucial to the well-being of residents and to economic vitality, the council was united in its assertion that next year’s budget could be even more difficult.