The Bangor City Council approved a $97.8 million budget on Thursday that funds a regional multicultural center but leaves four firefighter positions cut.
An unexpected $1.2 million increase in state aid allowed councilors to accomplish what Chairman Joe Baldacci called “a lot of good things.” They include the first increase in state aid to city schools in eight years.
“This is the smallest property tax rate change in 20 years,” Baldacci said after the special council meeting Thursday.
Under the new budget, the city’s mill rate will likely increase five or 10 cents from $22.50 per $1,000 of property. Properties worth $200,000 will see no increase and properties less valuable will get a slight tax decrease if their owners use Maine’s Homestead Exemption program.
The new rate will be set by Monday, Baldacci said.
Firefighters disliked that a motion to restore three of the four positions failed 5-3. Overtime can keep 18 firefighters working per shift, the department’s minimum, but filling open slots is difficult. Thursday’s day shift had 17 for five hours, said John York, president of the Bangor Professional Firefighters union.
“Straight up, we are disappointed,” York said. “The positive that has come out tonight is that we have agreed publicly that our numbers should be 88 positions [on the fire staff].”
With the cuts and imminent departures, the fire staff will fall from 88 to 82 positions in a week, York said.
Councilors Joe Perry and Gibran Graham said the council didn’t need to fill the positions now.
“We need to make [increased fire department staffing] a priority, but in a different process, because what I have seen from the past and the city manager and chief is that there’s actually a plan in place,” Graham said. “I think we need to have some faith in that decision-making process and that plan.”
Fire Chief Tom Higgins said the cuts would not compromise safety. The department also seeks a federal grant that has paid for the cut positions since 2009.
Councilors voted 5-3 to allocate $75,000 to fund the cultural center and unanimously to put $60,000 toward the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau to expand its marketing services. Councilor Dan Tremble was absent.
Councilor proponents said both would help the region’s economy. Officials in Dayton, Ohio, have said their center helped create a $116 million increase in home values and a $15 million annual increase in tax revenue.
BDN writer Danielle McLean contributed to this report.