BANGOR, Maine — Wednesday evening’s public forum on municipal budget issues was set up to accommodate about 150 members of the public, but only 30 people showed up at the Bangor Civic Center as city administrators and officials outlined some of the fiscal challenges facing Bangor this year.
“I’m sorry there wasn’t a bigger turnout,” said Bangor City Manager Cathy Conlow, who guided the 90-minute forum along. Conlow started things off by providing an overview of all the factors that affect Bangor’s yearly municipal budget with a Powerpoint video presentation.
“The main reason behind this was to encourage public participation and input from our citizens. It’s about involvement,” she said.
In all, 13 panelists — five of Bangor’s nine city councilors along with other city staff members and administrators — were on hand, but most of them didn’t speak.
This was the third public forum-type event in the last week and a half concerning Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed biennial state budget and its potential effects on Maine’s cities and towns.
The budget proposal calls for the elimination of the state’s municipal revenue-sharing program for two years, a flat funding system for grades K-12 with property taxpayers footing 50 percent of the teachers’ retirement premiums bill, switching currently taxable property into tax-exempt property to encourage more businesses to locate in Maine, eliminating state reimbursements to public health services provided to people in large cities like Bangor and Portland and a state takeover of all excise tax revenue.
“Right now this is in the hands of our representatives,” Bangor City Councilor and Mayor Nelson Durgin said. “The feeling is this proposal will not go through unscathed, but there likely will be some reductions or changes in funding and revenue generation.”
Unlike the other two area forums in Hampden and Brewer, this one concentrated on Bangor, specifically potential effects, what entails Bangor’s annual budget and future options.
“We have started to look into service fees for tax-exempt agencies and groups, but the state determines which organizations and groups are tax-exempt,” Conlow said after one citizen asked if tax-exempt organizations could be compelled to chip in for the services they currently receive from the city, such as trash collection and public works.
Under LePage’s proposed budget, Bangor would lose $3.7 million in municipal revenue sharing, $821,000 in General Assistance reimbursements and another $140,000 in excise tax revenue in the upcoming fiscal year; the Bangor School Department would pay an additional $645,000 to fund teacher retirement; and 3,615 non-elderly Bangor residents would lose $712,155 in property tax relief, and another 1,810 non-elderly residents would lose another $698,660 in Circuit Breaker rent refund relief.
“We had estimated $3.7 million in revenue sharing in the current fiscal year, but had the state not curtailed our share [last year], it would have been more like $5 million,” Debbie Cyr, Bangor’s finance director, said. “Bangor generates an estimated $60 million in sales taxes, so even at $5 million, it’s still quite a good deal for the state.”
Bangor resident John Hanson told city officials and residents in attendance that people need to band together locally to oppose broad tax and revenue cuts.
“As a city and community, we should be standing together because what’s going on at the state level is simply passing the buck… and it’s just goofy,” he said. “I think we have to stand united and draw a line in the pavement and say no.”
Other citizens asked about streamlining city services, privatizing certain things — Conlow pointed out that cemetery services have been privatized to save money, and that the recently-enacted stormwater utility fees will defray the costs of federally-mandated stormwater/sewage repairs and upgrades.
Everything from increasing recycling efforts to more vigorously assessing and collecting fines from parking tickets or violations of ordinances was proposed and discussed.
The city will hold another meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 20 at the Civic Center to discuss municipal services and which services and programs are priorities.