BANGOR, Maine — The City Council unanimously approved a $41 million school budget and also approved the formation of a utility to set up a system and fee structure to pay for federally mandated stormwater and waterway infrastructure improvements Wednesday night.
The vote for the formation of a stormwater utility district, which will act much like the city’s water or sewer districts, was 8-1 with Councilor Ben Sprague casting the only opposing vote.
“Progress on stormwater as defined by the EPA is not specific or measurable. I will not vote to allocate money to something so vague,” said Sprague. “Moreover, the fee should be regional as many of the streams in question flow through multiple communities.
“If we really believe these infrastructure changes are necessary, we should find room in the existing budget rather than tacking on a new fee.”
Councilor Pat Blanchette said while there is no firm deadline in place for cities and towns to conform to the federal 1972 Clean Water Act’s guidelines and mandates, it was time for the council to continue the process for getting Bangor in accordance.
“I wondered if we could get a delay on this, because if you don’t show your willingness to do something and make an effort, you get fined,” Blanchette said.
The exact amount of the fee is yet to be determined but the council and city staff members have proposed a utility fee plan that would charge most Bangor taxpayers $22 annually to fund mandated improvements for required stormwater and wastewater remediation.
“We don’t have a final number on the utility fee yet, but it’ll be less than a tax,” said Councilor Nelson Durgin. “If it had been instead assessed as a tax — which excludes hospitals, government buildings, nonprofits and other entities that are tax-exempt — it would have been around $85 for the average single-family home in Bangor.”
Durgin pointed out another advantage to a fee over a tax.
“This way we’ll be able to collect from everyone who is using the service, rather than those who are and aren’t,” said Durgin.
The fee isn’t all that’s still inexact. So is its implementation timetable.
“I don’t know when the fee would start. We don’t have a time frame on it, but we know we need to do it as fast as possible,” Blanchette said. “As far as finances go, it has to be sooner rather than later, but it’s hard to put a timetable on things.”
Remediation work includes catch basin and storm line cleaning, drainage system repairs and alterations, and retrofitting and construction projects near Penjajawoc Marsh and Birch Stream. Some costs will be paid by utility, grant and federal funds.
“The reason the utility will go into effect is we need the money,” said Blanchette. “In order to continue the work we need to do, we need to institute a fee system to pay for it.”
The $41,238,725 school budget marks a second straight budget that comes in less than the previous year’s.
“I think the big thing was the fact that the total budget for the school system is actually lower than last year and the total amount of money they have to work with is also less,” said Durgin. “The general attitude of the whole council was since we have no line-item authority, and there was no glaring areas of excess cost in the budget, it was universally agreed upon that it was a no-brainer to pass.”
Most councilors were effusive in praising the Bangor school board and Betsy Webb, school superintendent, for their work in crafting the budget and keeping them in the loop.
“If you looked at what they started, you really have to thank Betsy, the school board, and all of the teachers,” said Blanchette. “There was nothing really in there that I couldn’t vote against.
“It was a well-thought-out budget and we’ve had more meetings with this school board than any other time I’ve been on the council and that made things quite better for us.”
“I didn’t hear anyone say they weren’t going to be supporting the budget.”