BELFAST, Maine — City councilors heard a gloomy financial forecast at Tuesday night’s regular council meeting from the superintendent of RSU 20.
Bruce Mailloux told the council that the school district is facing estimated revenue losses next year of nearly $1.9 million. That figure includes a $900,000 decrease in Medicaid funds, a $42,000 decrease in E-Rate funds and a $941,970 decrease in federal stimulus funds.
“Quite frankly, I’ve got to put right out there that it’s not a very pleasant outlook,” Mailloux said, adding that he won’t “blame the state” for the fiscal problems.
“Who is the state? Well, it’s us,” he said. “Where do those funds come from ultimately? Taxpayers’ pockets.”
Mailloux explained to councilors that his board of directors would like to see a “zero increase” in next year’s budget. He told them that in 2007, Belfast spent $8.2 million for its share of education costs. This year, the city spent $7.29 million. In 2007, the combined SAD 34 and SAD 35 budgets were $32.58 million. This year, the RSU 20 budget was $32.51 million.
“That’s the budget going down at a time when costs are going up,” Mailloux said.
He said that it will be hard to make the budget work for the next fiscal year, that he would expect to see more consolidation in the future rather than less and also that he is eager to hear at the end of January how much the district will receive from the state through its General Purpose Aid education subsidy.
“We’ll either be jumping for joy or crying,” he said.
Councilors expressed their support for Mailloux and the RSU.
“You guys have done a very valid and strong job in the last five years to minimize the damage,” Councilor Eric Sanders said.
In other business, councilors reluctantly but unanimously decided to go ahead and designate two large swaths of the city’s waterfront as “slum and blight” areas. The term will allow the city to apply for federal Community Development Block Grants to improve the streetscape of these areas. Belfast Economic Director Thomas Kittredge said that the maximum grant the city could hope for is $150,000.
One proposed slum and blight area runs along Front Street from the Veteran’s Bridge to the Belfast Maskers Theater. The other runs along Front Street from Main Street to Spring Street, encompassing the Penobscot-McCrum processing plant, past the former Stinson Seafood property and to the city-owned railroad property.
“There’s something negative here about calling an area slum-blight,” said Councilor Roger Lee.
“I think it’s unfortunate that we’re applying for a grant that has slum and blight in it,” he said. “I think it can be perceived wrongly by the public. I find it slightly offensive. But the reality of what we’re trying to accomplish, I don’t find that offensive at all.”