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Penobscot, Piscataquis and Hancock county leaders to weigh impact of Gov. LePage’s proposed budget at Hampden meeting

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Legislators, community and school leaders from Penobscot, Piscataquis and Hancock counties will come together next week to outline the effects Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed biennial budget would have on their towns, according to municipal officials.

The event, dubbed “An Evening for Leadership,” is scheduled 7-8:30 p.m. Monday, March 4, at the Hampden Academy Performing Arts Center. It is being organized by the Penobscot River Educational Partnership and the municipalities. The public is invited to attend.

The changes and reductions outlined in Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed $6.3 billion budget, which administration officials repeatedly have said is part of an effort to rein in unsustainable entitlement spending, carries far-reaching consequences for communities across the state, according to event organizers.

For example, Bangor faces an economic impact of about $5.6 million, city officials have said. The lion’s share of that — about $3.7 million — would stem from suspension of revenue sharing. Bangor’s budget for fiscal year 2012-2013 was just over $119 million, according to city documents.

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 tax payers. Circuit breaker programs, which offer partial refunds of property taxes assessed or rent paid by low-income families, also would be cut, according to Debbie Cyr, finance director for the city.

To close that $5.6 million gap, Bangor would need to eliminate about 112 jobs or increase the mill rate by about $2.31 per $1,000 of valuation, which would be in addition to the tax increase resulting from cuts to the homestead exemption.

Owen Maurais, executive director for PREP, said towns are confirming their numbers in an attempt to determine a total budget impact for all three counties, as well as the individual communities.

Maurais said he hopes legislators attending the event will relay the concerns of community leaders to Augusta.

Jonathan Nass, the governor’s senior education policy adviser, will attend the meeting to address any questions attendees might have about the budget, according to LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett.

The governor made a number of reductions and issued a spending curtailment — including $12 million from education — in an effort to present a balanced budget, according to Bennett.

The spokeswoman pointed out that in his first year, LePage increased education spending by $63 million over the previous administration. In spite of that, Bangor school Superintendent Betsy Webb said her School Department has received a zero percent increase in funding over the past four years.

LePage is keeping an open ear for alternative solutions to balance the budget, but few have been presented.

“We’ve had a lot of opposition,” but few alternatives, Bennett said.

“We cannot move ahead unless we have other solutions being proposed,” Bennett said.

The governor also has said that these cuts and reductions do not equate to property tax hikes in communities.

“Towns and cities across our state have the ability to make that choice,” when deciding whether to increase revenue through taxes or trim budgets by cutting services, Bennett said.

Geoff Herman, director of state and federal relations from the Maine Municipal Association, will provide an overview of the proposed budget’s impact on local communities. Conlow, Webb, Bucksport Town Manager Mike Brennan, RSU 25 Superintendent James Boothby, Guilford Town Manager Tom Goulette and RSU 4 Superintendent Paul Stearns also will weigh in.

For information on the proposed biennial budget, visit www.maine.gov/budget.

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