Bangor council passes amended ‘workable’ budget Monday with 6 percent tax hike

Posted June 24, 2013, at 11:03 p.m.
Last modified June 25, 2013, at 6:20 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The Bangor City Council on Monday night unanimously approved a revised budget that will mean a nearly 6 percent increase in taxes, but councilors say it’s the best they can do in what has been the most trying budget season anyone can remember.

The city’s expenses on the budget are set at nearly $48 million, with the school system coming in around $42 million. This will mean a mill rate jump of $1.15 from $19.65 per $1,000 of valuation to $20.80 per $1,000 of valuation. That means that the owner of a property valued at $150,000 will pay about $161 more in taxes than last year.

Councilors have urged city staff to find reductions wherever possible in a budget season that has seen the city lose at least $1.2 million in state revenue sharing and another $500,000 in expired federal grant funding. Bangor also will have to pick up an 11.5 percent increase in health insurance premium costs.

To cope with that and prevent a much higher tax increase, the city reduced staff and chopped budgets across most of its departments.

“We have never had to cut this deep and it hurts,” said 18-year Councilor Patricia Blanchette.

“Everybody compromised on this budget,” Councilor James Gallant said, adding that Bangor, as a service center, has its costs increase because of compounding federal and state mandated services.

Councilor David Nealley said he has voted against budgets with flat funding in the past because he believed the city could work harder to reduce taxes. Even with this 6 percent hike, he said he believes the city has done everything it could do to reduce the burden on residents without slashing the city services they value.

Also at Monday night’s meeting, the council passed a six-month moratorium on charter schools, fearing that such an institution might “destabilize” the public school system.

Earlier this year, an application to create a Queen City Academy charter school at the former site of the Bangor YMCA on Hammond Street was rejected by the Maine Charter School Commission because it didn’t adequately explain how the plan would be financed. That group has said it would consider applying again.

Councilor Joe Baldacci proposed the moratorium because he sees a risk that such charter schools would further disperse tax dollars and dilute funding for Bangor’s public school system.

“This is an issue that’s critical not only to funding our public schools, but to what kind of schools are going to exist in this community,” Baldacci said.

Nealley said he is a supporter of the idea of charter schools, particularly in large cities with problems of violence and failing education systems. Bangor has neither of those problems, he said, and might not be a good fit for charter schools.

Councilors said they plan to work with legislators to address their concerns about any potential schools.

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