Bangor councilors resigned to advancing budget proposal that even they aren’t thrilled with

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff
Posted June 12, 2013, at 8:44 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A small contingent of city councilors said they were resigned to backing the best budget the city has been able to come up with even though no one is happy with the proposal.

The decision comes in one of the most trying budget season anyone can remember, officials said. The city has had to cover the costs of an increasing number of federally and state-mandated services and programs while revenues and state contributions fall.

However, the proposal is easier to swallow than the alternative, councilors said during a sparsely attended Wednesday evening workshop. If the council doesn’t agree to a plan by July 1, the city would operate under the city manager’s $48.4 million budget proposal from back in April. That budget would mean a $1.53 increase to the mill rate, whereas the latest $47.8 million revised version would lead to a $1.15 hike in the tax rate.

City staff found ways to trim their budgets. The largest cut 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. The council recently voted to not to cut 12 percent of funds for the Hammond Street Senior Center, the Commission for Cultural Development, Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau, 4th of July Corp., and Bangor Public Library.

There are still uncertainties with the state budget. Pending legislative support of the Appropriations Committee’s budget deal, Gov. Paul LePage has said he likely will veto the measure if it raises taxes.

Councilor Patricia Blanchette said she was “resigned to the fact that this is the best job we can do knowing what we do at this time.”

The council decided against trying to dig for further cuts, and City Manager Cathy Conlow has said any further cuts would mean reduction or elimination of valued city services.

While the Appropriations Committee’s state budget would restore some revenue-sharing money to cities and towns, Bangor would still lose more than $1.2 million in revenue sharing. The committee’s deal would give the city more in general assistance and teacher retirement aid, bringing the net loss down to roughly $650,000. The city will need to close that gap through a tax increase if the council decides against further cuts.

Assuming no changes in the state budget, the city’s mill rate will increase from $19.65 per thousand dollars of property valuation to $20.80. It’s likely that the state will make changes.

The council will review and vote on all proposed adjustments to the city manager’s budget during a June 24 meeting.

Bangor councilors have criticized the state’s budget, arguing that it shifts the financial burden to communities rather than addressing real structural problems at the state level that are causing fiscal troubles.

“Augusta is clearly in the midst of a financial crisis at this point … In all honesty, I think they’ve wasted an opportunity” to address severe deficiencies, Councilor Ben Sprague said.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/06/12/news/bangor/bangor-councilors-resigned-to-advancing-budget-proposal-that-even-they-arent-thrilled-with/ printed on July 28, 2014