BANGOR, Maine — Bangor city councilors recommended Wednesday night that the city put about $179,000 back into the budget during a workshop that was heavily attended by groups lobbying against cuts to Bangor Public Library and Hammond Street Senior Center.
Under this budget revision, the city would see its mill rate increase from $19.65 per $1,000 of valuation to $20.58, a roughly 4.7 percent tax hike. That’s still 60 cents less than City Manager Cathy Conlow’s proposed budget from back in April, which prompted councilors to ask city departments and agencies to dig deeper to identify cuts.
In order to avoid a drastic increase in the city’s tax rate, the councilors proposed a 12 percent budget cut across the board at the Hammond Street Senior Center, the Commission for Cultural Development, Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau, 4th of July Corp., and Bangor Public Library, which was offered $190,000 less than it sought in the budget. The cuts received initial support among most councilors, who reversed direction and recommended that the cuts be restored at the end of Wednesday’s workshop.
The city made multiple cuts of its own, the largest of which was nearly $401,000 in reduced employment costs because the city has four planned layoffs, is eliminating two positions, and reducing four other employees from full time to part time, according to Conlow.
Library officials and supporters turned out in large numbers to oppose the cut, arguing it was a significantly larger share than what the other agencies, with smaller budgets, faced. They said the cuts would lead to layoffs and might jeopardize the library’s planned $9 million renovation project, which includes $3 million for a new roof.
Prior to reinstating the cut, the city would have kept the library’s funding flat, but with a 1.5 percent increase for salaries, according to Conlow. However, the city wouldn’t have met the library’s request for $190,000 to cover the annual debt service payment that would stem from a $3 million roof bond. That money would need to come from the library’s own $2.3 million operating budget.
Mark Woodward, library trustee, said during the meeting that the loss of that money would have meant six layoffs and “significantly diminished services to the public.” The local history department would have shut down and efforts to digitize thousands of photographs, letters and documents would have been stalled, he said.
Councilors agreed to tentatively restore the proposed 12 percent cuts to each group, but the library did receive a 1.5 percent reduction in funding, which is more in line with what other city departments have had to face.
Councilor Pauline Civiello said she supported the proposed cuts. She said these programs were “enrichments” for the community, but she believed as a councilor she needed to be responsible to residents who will struggle to pay their tax bills next year after the mill rate jumps.
At one point during the meeting, Councilor Patricia Blanchette said she was tempted to support not make any cuts at all and to “let Augusta take the beating” when lawmakers explain why property taxes increased by $1.50 or $2.
“I think we need to pass our budget,” Blanchette said. “I don’t think we have any fluff in here at all. How much are you going to cut before you dismantle the fabric of what Bangor, Maine, is?”
Councilors James Gallant and Susan Hawes did not attend the workshop. Civiello was the only councilor at the meeting to oppose reinstating the cuts.
The city continues to wait for news from Augusta about what the state’s budget will look like, what costs the city will have to pick up and how much revenue the city will lose, especially in revenue sharing. If the current Democrat plan passes, the city likely will have to come up with an additional $800,000 in cuts or tax revenue beyond what already has been proposed, according to city officials, who called that a “best-case scenario.” If the proposed Republican plan passes, the city will have to come up with an additional $1.8 million, according to the city Finance Director Debbie Cyr. The final amount likely will be somewhere in between those amounts.
Depending on how much the city has to come up with, the city likely will have to make cuts to non mandated services that people value, according to Conlow.
“We’re going to get rid of the things that make us special, and probably some of them are the reasons that a lot of us live here,” Conlow said when asked what might need to be cut from the city’s budget next.
The final budget vote likely will be held June 24, but it may need to be amended depending on when the city finds out what decisions lawmakers make on the state budget.