Belfast municipal budget proposal won’t increase property taxes

Posted July 18, 2013, at 2:23 p.m.
Last modified July 22, 2013, at 7:46 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — After months of uncertainty about state revenue sharing, the city finally has an $8.9 million proposed budget — which city councilors are slated to vote on later this month.

The budget, which includes $826,812 for the water district that is paid for through user fees and not through property taxes, should mean that Belfast property owners will see no increases to the municipal portion of their tax bills.

“It won’t happen without some sacrifice,” City Manager Joe Slocum said earlier this week. “We’re down as tight as we can be.”

The budget reflects no furloughs or layoffs for city employees, although workers will not see any cost-of-living increases for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which Slocum said will be hard for them. Although city officials discussed the possibility of curtailing services, in the end, no major changes will happen — with the exception, perhaps, of cuts to social service groups and general assistance funding.

Altogether, the proposed budget shows a decrease from last year’s $261,000 for social services to $222,292. The line for miscellaneous promotional spending in the budget for the next fiscal year also looks a little different. Instead of finding $25,000 for the Our Town Belfast downtown promotional group in the municipal budget, the city will pay for that from funds collected through the downtown tax increment financing district.

A bigger, more problematic decrease, Slocum said, is the drop in state revenue sharing — from $481,500 last year to an estimated $334,643 this year. He said recently that a few years ago, Belfast received $800,000 from the state, but that general revenue sharing has been dropping precipitously. Gov. Paul LePage this year proposed to eliminate that program — which gives a share of sales and income taxes to municipalities — but legislators funded approximately 65 percent of the $400 million in municipal revenue sharing that LePage proposed cutting from the two-year state budget that took effect July 1.

“I don’t know of a municipality in the state that’s not angry. I’m very angry to be put in this position,” Slocum said. “I’m angry on behalf of 7,000 people here — really angry … municipalities are powerless to stop the state from simply taking more away from us.”

The city expects to earn about $4 million this year in revenues, which included excise taxes, ambulance receipts, solid waste receipts and more.

Altogether, property tax payers will be responsible for a little more than $4 million to pay for municipal services. The city’s share of the Waldo County tax comes to $1.4 million, with the one unknown before the city sets the property tax rate for the next fiscal year being the unfinished budget for Regional School Unit 20.

For the 2012-13 fiscal year, the Belfast property tax rate was set at $19.80 per $1,000 of valued property to pay for the combined city, county and school budgets. That means that a homeowner with property valued at $150,000 would pay $3,225.

Belfast residents are invited to come to a public hearing on the proposed municipal budget at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 25, at Belfast City Hall. The City Council is expected to vote on the budget at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 30, in a special meeting at City Hall.

A copy of the proposed budget is available for viewing on the city’s website at www.cityofbelfast.org.

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that the 2012-2013 mill rate for Belfast was set at 21.5. In fact, it is set at 19.8.

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