City side of budget would hold tax rate flat

Posted April 12, 2011, at 7:11 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — City councilors got their first look this week at the proposed 2011-12 municipal budget, a massive set of numbers that meets the council’s goal of a zero tax increase for municipal spending.

City Manager Catherine Conlow presented an overview of the budget before Monday’s council meeting but did not go deep into specifics. The first workshop is scheduled for Thursday, but councilors and members of the public will have numerous opportunities to weigh in on the particulars before the council votes on the budget June 27.

Conlow said the proposed budget reflects cuts of 6.5 percent from every department. In terms of personnel, 6½ positions have been targeted for elimination, but none will result in layoffs. Additionally, no municipal employees will see a cost-of-living increase in salary or changes in benefits unless it was due to a natural step increase.

“Every department is sharing the pain in this budget,” Conlow said.

The expenditure side of the estimated $46.1 million municipal budget reflects increases in fuel costs and employee health insurance. On the revenue side, some sources are up in the air, which is normal this early in the process. Bangor is not expected to see any reduction in state revenue sharing, but revenue estimates for areas such as general assistance and automobile excise tax could change depending on legislative discussions over the next few weeks.

The city’s tax rate is made up of three parts: the municipal budget, the school budget and Bangor’s share of taxes paid to Penobscot County.

Bangor School Committee members late last week unanimously approved their side of the budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year. At $41.7 million, the school budget represents slightly less than half of the total budget.

Although Superintendent Betsy Webb and her staff cut about $825,000 from last year’s budget, it still asks for an additional $350,000 from local taxpayers because of deep cuts in education funding from the state and the loss of federal stimulus dollars.

Penobscot County commissioners last December approved a $15.7 million budget for 2011 that increased that portion of the property tax rate from $1.12 to $1.16. The county budget increased by about $1 million, more than half of which will cover the cost of incorporating Bangor’s police and fire dispatch services with Penobscot Regional Communications Center. That move is on hold pending a citizen-led referendum vote scheduled for Nov. 8.

Conlow’s initial municipal budget absorbs the increase from the county but does not absorb the school department’s increase. That means that, although the municipal side is flat, the overall tax rate would increase by 15 cents.

Councilors met with members of the school committee last week and praised the efforts of the department in creating a responsible budget. On Monday, though, Councilor David Nealley said it would be important for taxpayers to know that the school department is responsible for the expected tax increase.

The city had the same goal of a flat tax during last year’s budget discussions, but councilors ultimately passed a budget that increased the tax rate from $19.05 to $19.20 per $1,000 of property valuation. That increase was shared fairly evenly among the city, school and county portions of the budget.

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