Bangor Council approves $43 million school budget, prepares to face looming tax hike

Posted May 28, 2014, at 9:37 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The City Council approved a $43 million school budget, one school officials say is bare bones, during its meeting Wednesday night. Voters will decide whether to ratify that budget at the polls during the June 10 election.

Councilors have no authority over the line items contained in the school system’s budget, but they do have the authority to reduce the overall allocation. There had been calls for reductions, including an effort earlier this month to have the school committee slash $178,000 from its expenses, but that fell flat after school officials said any further reductions would hurt the quality of education.

In coming weeks, councilors will weed through the city’s side of the budget. When the first draft of the budget was released in April, taxes were projected to increase from $20.80 per thousand dollars of valuation to $22.30. That didn’t sit well with councilors.

Since that date, city officials have come back with two separate budget proposals, including reductions aimed at softening the impact on taxpayers.

During a meeting earlier Wednesday evening, City Manager Cathy Conlow presented her latest revision to the budget, which chopped about $580,000 from the city’s $49 million municipal budget. If that were adopted as is by council, the city’s taxpayers would see the mill rate increase to $21.80, or a 4.8 percent increase, whereas the original draft proposed a 7 percent tax hike.

Lost in the latest round of proposed cuts would be five staff positions — totalling about three full-time equivalents — for a savings of more than $200,000; the Odlin Road bus route, which has the lowest ridership in the Community Connector system and continues to decline; the household hazardous waste collection; and increased funding requested by Bangor Public Library, which would see its funding stay the same as this past fiscal year. The latest proposal also increases bus fares and fees for the Kids Cave program and Sawyer Arena ice rink time.

Conlow said department heads brought the proposed reductions and fee adjustments to her table and that they mostly targeted “specialized” services, rather than broader offerings like police, fire and public works.

Council Chairman Sprague asked Conlow to bring another plan to a future meeting, one that outlines what the “next level of reductions might be,” he said.

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