BREWER, Maine — The Brewer City Council heard earlier this week that the city’s Penobscot County taxes are projected to increase again — for the ninth year straight — and that residents will pay more whether or not Bangor decides to consolidate its police and fire dispatch services with the county.
That’s because the proposed county budget already includes the costs of consolidation.
Bangor is the lone community in Penobscot County that does not use Penobscot Regional Communications Center, even though it pays for the service through its county taxes.
“The county budget is going up $1 million, and $569,000 [of that] is for adding staff for Bangor joining dispatch,” Finance Director Karen Fussell said Thursday.
The county budget is divided proportionally among 61 communities, the Penobscot Indian Nation and the Unorganized Territory, so “basically, that cost is being split among all these communities,” she said.
Fussell took the $569,000 figure for combining dispatch services between Bangor and the county and determined that Brewer’s share “is right around $40,000,” she said.
Councilor Jerry Goss said Tuesday that he was surprised when he heard the county tax has increased by an average 6 percent for nine years straight and asked Fussell to calculate the cost to Brewer if Bangor and the county consolidate dispatch services.
“She confirmed that Brewer and others will be paying more,” he said at the meeting. “Brewer will pay an additional $40,000, and Brewer is not the only community in Penobscot County that will pay more.”
Brewer taxpayers supply about 7 percent of the Penobscot County budget and last year paid $815,661 for services. The county tax this year is projected to be $855,964, or $40,303 more than last year, Fussell said.
Bangor taxpayers chip in about a quarter of the county budget, which last year totaled around $2.6 million, with a portion of the funds paying for dispatch services.
“Bangor’s contributions have, in effect, been subsidizing their budget,” Goss said of the county.
“They were just taking that revenue and supporting their general budget,” Fussell said of the county.
If the county did not use the funds from Bangor to stabilize the tax rate, “our increases would have been crazy,” she said. “A 6 percent increase every year is pretty high.”
Bangor dispatcher James Morrill gathered enough signatures to force a referendum on whether the Bangor and county dispatch services should be consolidated. Bangor city councilors will hold a public hearing Feb. 28 to discuss scheduling dates for that referendum vote and another about a proposed new arena.
If Bangor residents support combining emergency dispatch services, “Bangor will save on the deal, because they will no longer have to budget just over $500,000 per year for dispatching and will only have to foot 23 percent [$131,000] of the county’s increased cost to take over the service,” Fussell said in a memo to the City Council.
She later added that “If Bangor votes against joining PRCC, we should make sure the county commissioners ‘give back’ the unspent $569,000 that is in this year’s budget in the form of lower tax bills next year.”
Either way, “we’re going to be stuck with the $40,000 increase” this budget year, Councilor Larry Doughty said.
Councilors directed City Manager Steve Bost to contact the Penobscot County commissioners and invite them to next month’s meeting.
Goss said he understands that there isn’t much the Brewer City Council can do to address the constant increases at the county level but added, “If we say nothing, that is a mistake.”