OLD TOWN, Maine — The City Council approved an $14.5 million budget Thursday night which represents a roughly 2.3 percent tax increase, but residents and councilors had mixed feelings about the tax hike and the cuts that were made in this year’s budget process.
The city expects $14.5 million in expenses for fiscal year 2012-13, with about $5.5 million in revenues, meaning the town will need to raise just about $9 million through property taxes.
City Manager Bill Mayo said that will bring the town’s mill rate to $18.69 per $1,000 of property valuation. That’s a 39-cent increase over this fiscal year. A May version of the budget predicted a 4 percent tax hike, or roughly 67-cent increase to the mill rate.
During budget discussions, the council wanted to find ways to limit the tax hike while still maintaining services. Finding those cuts proved difficult, councilors and Mayo have said.
Residents who spoke at Thursday night’s meeting were divided over the cuts.
Scott Cates, a former city councilor and police officer, said he felt the council had pushed to eliminate a captain position and communications position in the town’s Police Department while pushing to keep the municipal pool open. He said not having a captain in the department will mean sergeants have to do administrative work and can’t be out patrolling the streets, which creates safety issues.
“I’m a little worried that this council has dug into the weeds and targeted specific positions,” Cates said.
Others at the meeting were concerned about cuts to library staff hours and argued that the town was fixated on keeping the pool and airport open while ignoring other community services.
Resident Joseph Pluff said the town’s revenue stream has been on the decline in recent years and that trend is likely to continue. He argued that the town needs to start living within its means.
“We need to adjust our operations to match our revenue, which means we have to make decisions we don’t like and we don’t want,” Pluff said. “We can’t afford everything we have today.”
Councilor Alan Stormann, who was the only councilor out of the five at the meeting to vote against the budget, has said throughout the process that he was against making any cuts to public safety services such as police and fire.
“I just don’t think that we’re allocating our resources the way we need to,” he said.
Councilor Bill Lovejoy said this budget represents a difficult compromise reached in an attempt to appease residents who wanted to maintain a strong level of services and other residents who didn’t want to see a tax increase. He argued that this budget meets somewhere in the middle.