First draft of Bangor’s budget projects 7 percent tax hike, but councilors say that won’t stand

Posted April 16, 2014, at 10:28 a.m.
Cathy Conlow, Bangor City Manager
Cathy Conlow, Bangor City Manager Buy Photo

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor city councilors got their first glimpse of a draft budget this week, and they’ve got their work cut out for them.

In total, the city and school department have budgeted to spend about $93 million in fiscal year 2015, a 2.6 percent increase over this year ’s budget. The city’s half of that is a $1.4 million increase. Earlier this month, the school department approved a $43.7 million budget, representing a 2.4 percent increase over its current budget.

At the same time, the combined city and school budgets project a nearly $1.5 million reduction in revenue, or a decrease of 3.4 percent.

If the budget were to go through in this form, Bangor residents would see their taxes climb by 7 percent — from a mill rate of $20.80 to $22.30. But it won’t, most councilors said during an initial budget meeting Monday night.

The tax rate in Bangor has been on a slow incline since 2008, when it was at $18.80, but the financial collapse and reduced state funding contributed to four separate increases in subsequent years. Prior to that, the city’s tax rate had been falling. A decade ago, the city’s mill rate was $23.35.

City officials are quick to point to the state’s failure to meet revenue sharing levels laid out in statute. Full funding of revenue sharing would offset most of the city’s fiscal challenges, they say.

Bangor, despite being the largest contributor of sales tax in the state, has lost about $4 million in revenues from the state since 2009. During that same 5-year span, Bangor has eliminated 50 city positions and 25 airport jobs.

“We’re out of attrition positions,” City Manager Cathy Conlow told councilors.

At this point, if the city is going to make cuts, it likely will mean reduced services.

“This might be the year we have to take a hard look at the services we provide,” Councilor Jamie Gallant said to his fellow councilors.

One example tossed around the table was sidewalk plowing. Residents are required by ordinance to clear sidewalks in front of their properties, according to the city, but the city has volunteered to clear certain neighborhood streets in the past. That may need to come to an end.

Councilor David Nealley said that he would like to see the school department match whatever cuts the city makes, as the fiscal challenges hit both sides and both share the burden of trying to lessen the budget’s impact on taxpayers.

Councilor Gibran Graham said he would like to see the city find a new way of getting itself out of this budget mire without cutting as it has in past years. The city should try to find new ways of bringing in revenue streams to cover city services. What those streams might be remains to be seen.

If it were receiving the statutory revenue sharing amount, Bangor would have $8.5 million more to work with in fiscal year 2015.

Gov. Paul LePage has a different view on revenue sharing, having called it “municipal welfare” in the past.

Conlow credited the city for continuing to develop and grow in spite of fiscal challenges, especially in entertainment offerings that will bring tens of thousands of patrons to Bangor each year for Waterfront Concerts, the American Folk Festival, shows at the Cross Insurance Center and more.

This is a first-draft budget likely will see many revisions and reductions before the council adopts a final budget in late June.

City Council meets Wednesday night to look over the budget and start digging into department finances and requests. More than a dozen more budget-related meetings are planned, tentatively.

To view the full draft budget for yourself, visit http://www.bangormaine.gov/image_upload/FY15_Budget.pdf.

 

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