In bid to protect arts amid budget cuts, Bangor officials propose optional fee

George Kinghorn, director of the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor, gives a press tour through the museum in December 2012. Two city officials have proposed an optional property tax fee in order to preserve funding for the arts amid tough budget cuts.
Linda Coan O'Kresik
George Kinghorn, director of the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor, gives a press tour through the museum in December 2012. Two city officials have proposed an optional property tax fee in order to preserve funding for the arts amid tough budget cuts. Buy Photo
By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff
Posted March 23, 2013, at 1:53 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — With a fiscal crunch looming this budget season, some are hoping area residents will kick in to make sure the arts aren’t lost in the shuffle.

The Bangor Business and Economic Development committee is expected to begin discussions about the potential of establishing an optional fee to raise money for arts and cultural projects in the city during its April 2 meeting.

The idea is in its infancy, but the concept is to give Bangor residents the option of paying an additional $35 on their property tax bills, according to City Councilor Ben Sprague. Outreach efforts through Bangor’s art community would urge people in surrounding towns and people who rent property to contribute as well, he said.

“In Bangor, we’ve had so much momentum in the arts in the last decade, and we want to keep that momentum going,” Sprague said Friday, “but because of the budgetary constraints, we’re having to cut back on everything.”

If 20 percent of Bangor property taxpayers, along with renters and people outside the community, chose to pay the fee, Sprague estimates the city could raise $75,000-$100,000 for the arts.

Josh Plourde, a downtown Bangor resident and member of the city’s Commission on Cultural Development, recommended the idea after reading an article about Portland, Ore., establishing $35 tax to raise money to support the arts — except Portland’s was mandatory, with an exemption for those under the federal poverty line.

Portland residents approved the tax in a November 2012 vote by a wide margin, according to reports published by The Oregonian. However, many residents still expressed frustration with the new tax after receiving their bills.

Taking inspiration from Portland, Plourde felt the city could raise money for the arts without raising the hackles of residents by giving them the opportunity to contribute to Bangor’s artistic and cultural ventures rather than making it mandatory.

“Taxpayers in Bangor have been asked to fund a lot of things in the past few years,” Sprague said. “The taxpayer is tapped out.”

Sprague and Plourde argue that people should still have the chance to contribute to the arts in some way.

“We think that every citizen of Bangor should be provided the opportunity to invest and support community arts organizations and community arts projects,” Plourde said Friday.

Financial support for the arts has been harder to come by in recent years. In 2011, the city’s funding for the Commission on Cultural Development was $25,000. Last year, that fell to $10,000. This budget season, with significant cuts expected, the funding likely would be reduced further.

The money raised through the optional fee and other contributions from renters and other area residents would go into a city fund for the commission, which would allocate funds toward projects in the form of grants.

“I think Bangor really carries the ball for the entire region from an arts and creative economy perspective,” Sprague said, adding that the success of events like the National and American Folk Festivals proved that people would come to Bangor to support artistic, cultural events and business pursuits.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/03/23/news/bangor/in-bid-to-protect-arts-amid-budget-cuts-bangor-officials-propose-optional-fee/ printed on July 28, 2014