Ex-Bangor mayor challenges budget process

Posted June 25, 2010, at 10:21 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Former city councilor and mayor N. Laurence Willey challenged the current council on Friday to be more creative in budget discussions, if not for next year, then for the more challenging years ahead.

Willey, who spoke on the steps of City Hall and quoted from a lengthy report he prepared, said the city has no excuse for passing a 2010-11 budget that would raise the tax rate.

City councilors are expected to adopt next year’s budget at their regular meeting on Monday, June 28. The latest proposed budget showed the tax rate at about $19.20 per $1,000 of property valuation — 15 cents higher than the current rate.

“Bangor does not need a tax increase this year; $19.05 needs to be maintained,” Willey said. “[Councilors] need to maintain a hard line or they will regret it.”

Municipal budget discussions have been going on for several months and have featured a number of controversial proposals that ultimately failed to win support of a majority of councilors. Among the failed ideas were 10 percent cuts to the fire and public works departments and a reduction of $170,000 in funding to the Bangor Public Library.

Willey said even though the council wasn’t successful in pushing for budget cuts, they should have employed another option to offset the increase: Dip into the city’s reserve accounts. Willey said Bangor has more than $8 million in undesignated reserve funds, some of which could be used to keep the tax rate flat. City staff and councilors have said that money serves a purpose even if it’s not earmarked, but Willey called it a glorified “bureaucratic slush fund.”

The former councilor wondered how municipal expenses keep going up when the city’s population has been stagnant for many years.

Although Willey said his ideas were nonpartisan, those who came out to back him on Friday were mostly Republicans, including Doug Damon and Katrin Teel, who are vying for House District seats held by Democrats.

David Nealley was the only city councilor who attended Friday’s event and said he agreed with Willey’s idea about using reserve funds.

“Whether my colleagues on the council end up agreeing or not, I intend to suggest [next week] that when we get to the final cost-cutting measures, we use reserve to make up the difference,” he said. “We have a healthy surplus.”

Earlier this year, Willey held a similar press event on the City Hall steps to release another report he crafted. It was titled “Restructuring State Government Can No Longer Wait.”

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