Bangor council begrudgingly passes budget with 5 percent tax hike

Posted June 23, 2014, at 9:53 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor city councilors resigned to passing a budget with a nearly 5 percent tax increase on Monday night, one that none are happy with and most say is out of their hands.

The $49 million fiscal year 2015 municipal budget that will increase the city’s tax rate by $1 per thousand dollars of property valuation. The city’s mill rate will increase from $20.80 to $21.80, or just under 5 percent. That means if a property is valued at $150,000, the taxpayer would pay about $150 more per year.

That will be a hard burden to shoulder for some Bangor residents, especially those on fixed incomes, councilors said.

City officials have said that reduced municipal revenue sharing dollars coming from the state, coupled with underfunded services and increasing state and federal mandates, have forced the city to find ways to cut costs.

They point to the state’s failure to fund 55 percent of the cost of education, as laid out in statute, and the fact that the city should be receiving $3 million more in municipal revenue sharing funding than it received this year. Increasing health care costs added to the city’s fiscal challenges.

Councilor Joe Baldacci said that this Bangor budget and its tax increase were the result of decisions made in Augusta and Washington, not Bangor.

The city has eliminated 55 positions in the past two years in an effort to keep up, but it hasn’t been enough. That included six city positions and three additional positions at Bangor International Airport made late in this budget session. Further reductions to the budget would mean loss of police, fire, public works and other valued city services, officials have said.

Prior to Monday’s budget vote, Councilor Pauline Civiello made a motion to remove about $14,000 that had been allocated to the Bangor Public Library to allow for a 2 percent cost of living increase

Civiello and several other councilors took issue that the $14,000 had been added to the budget during a budget committee meeting attended by five councilors several weeks after the full council voted 6-3 to keep that $14,000 out of the budget.

The motion was largely a statement because the $14,000 budget reduction has no effect on the mill rate increase.

The library had requested that increase because employees in several municipal departments are seeing the same wage increases under the fiscal year 2015 budget. Several councilors who voted to take the increase out of the budget said they believed the library’s board could come up with the money elsewhere.

The municipal budget passed in a 7-2 vote. Councilor David Nealley voted against it to make a statement against increasing state and federal mandates paid for out of the pockets of underfunded municipalities. Councilor James Gallant voted against it because he thought more cuts could have been made to keep the tax rate down, but he declined to say what changes he would make because “we’d be here until 10 p.m.”

The city’s voters already approved the school system’s portion of the budget — about $43 million — during an election earlier this month. That half of the budget accounts for 59 cents worth of the projected $1 mill rate increase.

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