With trying budget season looming, Bangor schedules town hall meetings to engage residents

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff
Posted Feb. 19, 2013, at 7:50 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The city has organized a trio of town hall meetings to update residents on Bangor’s budget situation for 2014-15, which could result in more than 100 layoffs, cuts to programs and services, or tax increases, according to an official.

The first meeting, scheduled for 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27, at the Bangor Civic Center, will focus on the budget issues the city faces.

Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed $6.3 billion budget, which administration officials have repeatedly said is part of an effort to rein in unsustainable entitlement spending, carries far-reaching consequences for Bangor, which faces an economic impact of about $5.6 million, City Manager Cathy Conlow said Tuesday. The lion’s share of that — about $3.7 million — would stem from suspension of revenue sharing. Bangor’s budget for 2012-13 was just over $89 million for city and school operations.

The city also would lose funding because of cuts to the homestead exemption, which would result in an automatic tax increase for about two-thirds of Bangor’s property taxpayers, and circuit breaker programs, which offer partial refunds of property taxes assessed or rent paid by low-income families, according to Debbie Cyr, finance director for the city.

At the first town hall meeting, “we’ll discuss with the public the dollar impact that we’re expecting and ask [the public] to give some thoughts about what that means,” Conlow said.

To close that $5.6 million gap, the city would need to eliminate about 112 jobs or increase the mill rate by about $2.33 per $1,000 of valuation, which would be in addition to the tax increase resulting from the cuts to the homestead exemption, according to Conlow.

“It’s not going to be easy to get to nearly $6 million, a lot of our services are braided,” she said.

“We already, since 2008-2009, have seen our budgets depleting,” Conlow said, adding that the city took money out of reserves, left positions unfilled, trimmed services and deferred capital projects repeatedly over the years to cope with declining revenues.

The second town hall meeting, scheduled for 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, March 13, will include a discussion of municipal services. There is a 10-page list of mandated services that the city is required to provide, including maintaining public roads and general assistance, and others that aren’t, such as Emergency Medical Services, Parks and Recreation and curbside trash pickup.

“We’ll go through and pull out all the costs associated with mandated or optional services, and you have a limited number of choices,” Cyr said. “Optional services: You stop doing them; Mandated services: You [need to] do them, but is there another way to do it? Or [for both optional and mandated] is there a lower level of service that’s acceptable?”

The third meeting, set for 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, March 20, will focus on setting priorities for which services and programs should be given priority if cuts need to be made. The city council will take public input under advisement when it makes difficult budgeting decisions in coming months, according to Conlow.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/02/19/news/bangor/with-trying-budget-season-looming-bangor-schedules-town-hall-meetings-to-engage-residents/ printed on September 16, 2014