BANGOR, Maine — City councilors have tasked City Manager Catherine Conlow and her staff to return by next month a proposed 2011-12 budget that keeps the tax rate flat.
Chairwoman Susan Hawes said councilors were united in their feeling that taxpayers have enough to worry about without the prospect of additional property taxes.
“Everyone has a sense of what’s going on and we have tried to do some prioritization,” she said. “But there are going to be some very hard decisions to make.”
Last year, the council had the same goal of no tax increase. However, the $45.5 million budget that passed in a contentious 5-4 vote increased the tax rate from $19.05 per $1,000 of property valuation to $19.20. That meant an increase of $30 a year on a $200,000 home.
Councilor David Nealley made a comment last year that if the council approved a higher budget, that would become the baseline for the future, and he was right.
Hawes, however, said she doesn’t expect the council to be as divided on the budget this year.
“This group is working as well together as any council I’ve been a part of,” she said.
Although numbers have not been released, Conlow said the budget would be based on existing state laws and statutes and would not consider any of the many proposals being discussed in Augusta.
Depending on whether any of those proposals are successful, the effects on Bangor could be great.
“There likely will be some big changes to how we deliver services,” Conlow said. “We need to understand that we cannot be all things to all people.”
Among the areas that could pose problems for the city in creating the budget are: how to address the city’s plans to switch to single-stream recycling and a “pay-as-you-throw” trash removal system; how to handle emergency dispatch, which is in limbo pending a citywide referendum vote on whether Bangor should consolidate with Penobscot County; and whether a recent independent review of police and fire department operations could have an effect on the budget.
Councilors also are expected to meet soon with Bangor School Superintendent Betsy Webb and members of the school committee about that part of the budget. Last week, Webb presented her draft to the committee, which would cut expenses by 1.8 percent but would still require an additional $350,000 from local taxpayers because of state cutbacks.
Some councilors have said privately that if they are looking to hold the tax rate flat, the school department should try to do its part. The City Council has the authority to approve or reject the school budget, but it does not have jurisdiction over how that budget is created. Bangor voters also have to approve the school budget.
Hawes said no one municipal department would be targeted for cuts but all departments would likely share the burden. One area where the city is expected to invest, however, is technology.
“We have some real deficiencies in that area that we can’t afford to keep putting off,” she said.
The municipal budget process, the first in Bangor for Conlow, who has been on the job since last November, is expected to last through April and May and will include several public hearings.
The new budget goes into effect on July 1.